New federal COVID-19 safety rules exempt most employers

The Biden administration has exempted most employers from long-awaited rules for protecting workers from the coronavirus, angering labor advocates who had spent more than a year lobbying for the protections.

The Labor Department included only health care workers in its new emergency temporary standard published Thursday.

The rules require employers to draw up a virus protection plan, and tighten requirements for recording and reporting COVID-19 cases among workers. They also require employers to provide workers with paid time off for COVID-19-related absences, including getting vaccinated and recovering from the shot’s side effects.

Rather than issue mandatory rules for other workplaces, the Biden administration released new nonbinding guidance that relaxed some recommendations. Most workplaces where people are fully vaccinated no longer need to provide any protection from the coronavirus, according to the guidance issued by Occupational Health and Safety Administration, the federal agency responsible for protecting workers. In a separate order, the Biden administration also lifted a 25% cap on employer capacity inside federal buildings, though it kept in place flexible remote work policies.

The decision comes as many stores and other companies are already relaxing mask and other protection policies in response to new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But it also represents a step back from Biden’s earlier indications that he would reverse the Trump administration’s refusal to issue mandatory protection rules for workers. Read the full story.