By Peter S. Hicks, Shareholder
To prepare for potential reopening as the COVID-19 vaccine becomes more prevalent, the Oregon Health Authority (“OHA”) has issued Reopening Guidance regarding the continued use of masks, face coverings, and face shields. With only limited exceptions, masks, face covering, and face shields continue to be required at all times unless in your own residence, personal vehicle, eating or drinking, or in a private, individual workspace. For the general public, being fully vaccinated, or being in a low-risk category and with others that are fully vaccinated, may also exempt individuals from the masking requirements when engaging in outdoor activities.
Notably for employers, however, these exemptions do not apply, even to outdoor workspaces or worksites when the employee is fully vaccinated or working with other employees that are fully vaccinated. Employers must therefore continue to require masks, face coverings, or face shields for all employees, regardless of whether the employee is working indoors or outdoors, or whether the employee is fully vaccinated or working with others that are fully vaccinated. The only exception to this requirement is employees working in a private, individual workspace defined as “an indoor space within a public or private workplace used for work by one individual at a time that is enclosed on all sides with walls from floor to ceiling and with a closed door.”
Employers are required to continue providing masks, face coverings, or face shields for employees and post clear signs about mask, face covering, and face shield requirements. At the same time, employers must also provide accommodations for employees, contractors, volunteers, students, customers, and visitors if required by state and federal disability laws, labor laws, state and federal public accommodations laws requiring equal access, and comply with OHA public health guidance.
What does this all mean for employers? The short answer is that COVID-19 and the associated restrictions are not over. Employers should continue to aggressively enforce mask, face covering, and face shield requirements, including potentially sending workers home for violating the requirement. Also, continue to post masking notices and provide masks for employees and the public. If you do not have a clear, written mask policy in place that you have distributed to all of your employees, get one. Jordan Ramis is happy to help if you need assistance.
OHA Guidance suggests employers also monitor entrances to keep individuals and customers that refuse to comply with the masking requirements from entering the premises. While this may be overly aggressive, employers should do what they can to keep the premises safe for employees and customer that are complying with the current requirements.
Finally, for the time being, employers should continue to comply with all OSHA and OHA temporary rules. As full vaccination becomes more common and case counts fall, changes to the rules will likely follow. However, with the current environment changing constantly, it is difficult to get any clarity on when the COVID-19-related rules may be rolled back. The safest course is therefore continuing to comply with all existing rules and regulations rather than trying to anticipate when, and if, the rules and regulations will change.
Peter Hicks is an employment and commercial litigation attorney and shareholder at Jordan Ramis PC. He can be reached at (541) 797-2079 or firstname.lastname@example.org.