State and Federal COVID Guidance for Workplaces Continues to Evolve | Opportunities for Employer Input and Further Guidance, Including Upcoming Online Meeting with Agencies

The following provides a brief overview of changing COVID guidance and requirements at the federal and state levels, as well as information about opportunities to learn more about compliance and implementation issues and guidance from the state, including an online town hall meeting with state agencies scheduled for June 8.

Federal and State Changes So Far

As you know, the recent release of updated COVID guidance from the CDC (click here) eliminating masking and distancing guidance for fully vaccinated individuals – but continuing that guidance for unvaccinated individuals – has set off a period of change and uncertainty for employers and their employees.

At the state level, Vermont has changed its universal guidance for workplaces to reflect masking and distancing requirements only for unvaccinated workers, with some exceptions for specific sectors (click here).  As noted in the related executive order (click here), businesses must also still comply with any local ordinances and employers should be sure to check with their municipal authorities.

Subsequently, the Governor has announced that remaining masking and distancing requirements, among others, will be lifted once the state reaches 80% initial vaccination among eligible Vermonters.  It is possible that this could happen as soon as sometime next week.  It is also expected that the state of emergency might be fully or partially lifted at some point following this additional change, depending on what conditions might be required for federal support or other necessary eligibility or authority.

Meanwhile, however, changes have been slower at the federal level.  Although CDC released changes that still apply restrictions to unvaccinated individuals, it is not known when it might loosen guidance further as Vermont intends to.

Moreover, although OSHA recognizes the changes made by the CDC, it has not yet actually updated its guidance for workplaces (click here).  It is hoped that these updates will be coming in the near future.  However, although the updated OSHA guidance could be expected to be largely in line with the new CDC guidance, it is again unlikely to reflect a full lifting of restrictions for unvaccinated employees at this time.

Turning back to Vermont, VOSHA has indicated that it will not be enforcing the existing OSHA COVID guidance pending the expected updates.  In addition, it is no longer requiring the employee COVID training previously needed (click here).

Other state-based considerations include the fact that employees will be eligible for unemployment benefits if they want to leave work for COVID-related reasons through up to a quarter or more following the eventual lifting of the state of emergency, and these reasons include whether the business is complying with OSHA COVID guidance.  In addition, there will continue to be conditions for enhanced presumptions for workers’ compensation liability for COVID cases until 30 days after the end of the state of emergency.

What Should Employers Do?

The changes outlined above, particularly the current and likely to continue disconnect between state requirements and OSHA guidance, have left many employers uncertain about whether and how best to change their own workplace policies and practices.

On the one hand, employers are still able to keep their masking and distancing requirements for all employees if they wish.  On the other hand, they can expect to not face direct issues with VOSHA if they follow ACCD’s universal guidance rather than OSHA guidance where they might continue to differ.  As employers are likely well aware, however, that does not address all questions or potential issues.

At this point, state guidance is limited.  However, AIV is actively engaged with ACCD and VDOL to address employer needs for greater clarity and guidance on what is required, prohibited, and recommended.

VOSHA is considering additional guidance, including developing an FAQ, with input from AIV and others, and there will be an online town hall meeting with ACCD and VDOL/VOSHA for Vermont employers on June 8, from 3:00 to 4:00 pm.

To participate in the June 8 meeting, click here.  To call in, dial (802) 828-7667, conference code 789 261 903#.

In the meantime, we strongly encourage you to contact us at info@aivt.org with any questions, topics, suggestions, or other input on issues you are considering for your own workplace, items you want to see addressed in additional state guidance or advice from legal and human resources professionals, and any specific things you would like to see addressed during the June 8 meeting and any future such events.