Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.
NOTE: This article was updated on June 30, 2021.
On June 25, 2021, Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed Executive Order No. 21-15 (the “Recovery Order”), lifting the vast majority of Oregon’s COVID-19 restrictions as of Wednesday, June 30, 2021. The Recovery Order eliminates the statewide mask mandate, as well as requirements for physical distancing indoors, capacity limits, and vaccine verification. The Recovery Order further ends certain restrictions applicable to child daycare services and all levels of educational facilities. Indoor masking and physical distancing requirements, however, remain to the extent required by current federal guidance, including for health care facilities, public transportation, and correctional facilities.
Importantly, the Recovery Order extends Governor Brown’s emergency powers, which she explained is “necessary for Oregon to access federal and state funding, ensure adequate healthcare and vaccination resources, and maintain flexibility.” Governor Brown stated the extension will help Oregon businesses and individuals continue to recover from the pandemic and will not be used to impose new restrictions.
Of course, as before, employers may implement stricter workplace safety requirements, including the continued use of masks and social distancing. As the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has explained, employers also generally may require that on-site employees be vaccinated, unless prohibited by local law or unless the employee is entitled to a reasonable accommodation on account of a disability or sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance. Employers are not required to maintain signage relating to COVID-19 issues and safety, and unless otherwise specified, may operate business as usual.
Oregon OSHA followed Governor Brown’s direction by revising its current COVID-19 workplace rules to lift mask and physical distancing requirements on June 30, 2021. However, Oregon OSHA stated it will continue to require certain COVID-19 safety precautions such as ventilation requirements, notifications regarding positive COVID-19 tests, and quarantine procedures.
While the Recovery Order’s repeal of Oregon’s pandemic restrictions is welcome news to most, some employees may be hesitant to return to a workplace without masks, physical distancing, and other restrictions. After June 30, 2021, Oregon employers need not make reasonable accommodations for employees who feel uncomfortable returning to the workplace based on general COVID-19 concerns alone. If an employee’s physical presence at the workplace is required, the employer is free to make clear to the employee that discomfort or fear due to COVID-19 is not a valid reason to stay home. Employers must still make efforts to reasonably accommodate those who cannot return to the workplace due to a disability, however. Employers should also be aware that employees may be entitled to leave time for various purposes under federal, state, or local law.
The Recovery Order does not impact areas under the purview of the federal government, such as federal safety and health regulations issued by the federal OSHA, guidance from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”), or protocols for public transportation. For example, the Transportation Security Administration’s order requiring face coverings on public transportation does not expire until September 13, 2021, while the CDC has not stated when its guidance for healthcare settings and correctional facilities—guidance that Oregon is adhering to in those settings—will be updated.