Poyner Spruill LLP

In May of 2021, the CDC significantly relaxed the guidelines and guidance for individuals who have been fully vaccinated. However, given the increase in number of cases and spreading of the Delta variant, the CDC has revised its guidance. This guidance will impact workplaces and provide more streamlined protocols for promoting a safe working environment.

As a note, CDC guidance is not mandatory and consists of recommendations for the health and safety of individuals. However, employer compliance with these recommendations helps the business meet its obligations under OSHA’s general duty clause, which requires businesses provide a safe workplace for employees.

The revised guidance reiterates guidelines from the previous iterations, stating that fully vaccinated individuals (two weeks after the final dose of the vaccine) may:

  • Engage in activities done prior to the pandemic;
  • If traveling in the United States, have no requirement to get tested before or after travel or to self-quarantine after travel;
  • Wear a mask when traveling on buses, planes, trains, and other forms of public transportation;
  • If traveling internationally, should get tested 3 days before return to the United States and 3-5 days after a trip;
  • Continue to be vigilant and watch out for symptoms of COVID-19, especially if you have been around someone who is sick.

New guidance for fully-vaccinated individuals includes:

  • Wear a mask in public indoor settings if they are in an area of substantial or high transmission. This includes much of the country, as indicated on this CDC map. The CDC does not specifically define “public indoor settings”; however, it can be interpreted to mean internal common areas or anywhere the public has access.
  • Choose to mask regardless of the level of transmission, especially if they or someone in their household is immunocompromised or at risk for severe disease, or if someone in their household is unvaccinated.
  • Get tested 3-5 days after a known exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 and wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days after exposure or until a negative test result is obtained.

The latest CDC guidance does not make reference to workplace mandates. However, it is important to check what state/local mandates are in your area. The following are suggestions, consistent with latest CDC guidance, that employers can follow to keep workplaces safe and employees healthy:

  • Since most workplaces have a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, CDC recommends that all employees, as well as vendors, clients or other visitors, be masked regardless of vaccination status in areas of high or substantial transmission.
  • In low or moderate transmission or non-public workspaces, vaccinated employees need not wear masks but unvaccinated employees should continue to maintain all COVID-19 protocols.
  • If fully vaccinated employees wish to eat together, they can be permitted to do so. Unvaccinated colleagues could join them, but it is recommended that those individuals continue to observe social distancing and wear a mask.
  • Employers may allow fully-vaccinated employees to resume business travel, both domestic and international. Employers should continue to try and minimize any required travel for unvaccinated employees.
  • Because the vaccine does not provide 100% protection, some vaccinated employees will still get COVID-19. If this happens, the employee should isolate in accordance with CDC’s guidelines, seek a medical evaluation, and be tested. Those who test positive should isolate, and employees with symptoms who have tested positive may be able to work remotely or may need leave.
  • Reasonable accommodations should still be explored for employees who communicate a religious or disability-related need to not be vaccinated.

The updated guidance also notes that the FDA has granted full approval for Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, and the CDC will release additional guidance given this approval after August 30, 2021. Please contact your employment counsel for any questions regarding the updated CDC guidance and workplace safety standards during the time of COVID-19.