U.S. Labor Department issues COVID-19 workplace safety guidance

FILE PHOTO: Safeway pharmacy manager Kel Fanny draws up a COVID-19 vaccine at a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) mass vaccination site at the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds in Ridgefield, Washington, U.S. January 27, 2021. REUTERS/Alisha Jucevic

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Labor Department on Friday issued guidance for safe workplaces during the COVID-19 pandemic, which could allow sick employees to stay at home without fear of losing their jobs.

This followed a request by President Joe Biden last week for the department to consider clarifying that workers have a federally guaranteed right to decline employment that would jeopardize their health and still qualify for unemployment insurance if they do so.

The guidance issued by the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) outlines key measures for limiting the coronavirus’ spread, including ensuring infected or potentially infected people are not in the workplace, implementing and following physical distancing protocols and using surgical masks or cloth face coverings.

It also provides guidance on use of personal protective equipment, improving ventilation, good hygiene and routine cleaning. But the guidance is not a standard or regulation, and it creates no new legal obligations.

“Employers and workers can help our nation fight and overcome this deadly pandemic by committing themselves to making their workplaces as safe as possible,” said M. Patricia Smith, senior counselor to the Secretary of Labor. “The recommendations in OSHA’s updated guidance will help us defeat the virus, strengthen our economy and bring an end to the staggering human and economic toll that the coronavirus has taken on our nation.”

More than 25 million people have been infected with the virus and over 425,000 have died since the pandemic started in the United States.

Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Daniel Wallis