Biden Issues Executive Order Focusing on COVID-19 in the Workplace

President Biden signs Executive Orders

PHOTO: AP/Evan Vucci

Biden Issues Executive Order Focusing on COVID-19 in the Workplace

January 22, 2021

On Thursday, January 21, 2021 President Biden issued an Executive Order (EO) seeking to put in place enforceable standards to address COVID-19 in the workplace. His EO on Protecting Worker Health and Safety directs the Secretary of Labor, through the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health to:

  • Revise guidance to employers on workplace safety during the COVID-19 pandemic within two weeks of this order (i.e. on or before February 4)
  • Consider whether emergency temporary standards are needed and if so, issue them by March 15
  • Review Enforcement and identify changes to better protect workers
  • Target enforcement of COVID-19 workplace violations that put the largest number of workers at serious risk or are contrary to anti-retaliation principles
  • Conduct outreach campaign to inform workers of their rights targeting communities hit hardest by pandemic

Joe Biden has named Boston Mayor Marty Walsh as his nominee for labor secretary and has appointed Jim Frederick as OSHA's acting administrator and the agency's deputy assistant secretary. The President has appointed Joseph Hughes, Jr. as OSHA's deputy assistant secretary for pandemic and emergency response. Jim Frederick has most recently been senior consultant with ORC HSE Strategies, a National Safety Council workplace safety group. Hughes was most recently the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences' Worker Education and Training Branch head.

The EO comes on the same day that the Biden Administration released a National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness which includes plans to to issue stronger worker safety guidance. The plan states, "It is critical that the federal government protect the health and safety of America's workers and take swift action to prevent workers from contracting COVID-19 i the workplace." President Biden has signed 10 EOs and other directives aimed at containing the pandemic.

Emergency temporary standards may take effect upon publication in the Federal Register without a public comment period if the Secretary determines that employees are exposed to grave danger from harmful substances or from new hazards and that the emergency standard is necessary to protect the employee. An emergency temporary standard may be in place for 6 months before being replaced by a promulgated standard.



Biden Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety 
EO issued January 21, 2021

National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness 
Strategy issued January 21, 2021

OSHA Section 6. (c)  
Reference: OSHA Act of 1970 • Occupational Safety and Health Standards • Emergency Temporary Standards