New guidance by OSHA on its frequently asked questions page concerning the COVID-19 vaccine answers a question that many employers should be asking themselves as the pace of vaccinations accelerates: When must an adverse reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine be documented on the OSHA 300 log?

The answer to this question depends on whether the vaccine is required or recommended by the employer. OSHA’s new guidance makes it clear that while adverse reactions to required and recommended vaccinations may be recordable, “OSHA is exercising its enforcement discretion to only require the recording of adverse effects to required vaccines at this time.”

Determining Your OSHA COVID-19 Vaccine Reaction Reporting Requirements

OSHA’s new guidance explains that an adverse reaction to a vaccine may be recordable if it is work-related, a new case (as opposed to a condition resulting from a previous work-related illness) and one of the recording criteria in 29 CFR 1904.7 — such as days away from work — is met.

If you require your employees to be vaccinated as a condition of employment, then any adverse reaction to the vaccine is work-related. The adverse reaction is recordable if it is a new case under 29 CFR 1904.6 and meets one or more of the general recording criteria in 29 CFR 1904.7.

OSHA is only requiring the recording of adverse effects from mandatory vaccines at this time. Therefore, you do not need to record adverse effects from COVID-19 vaccines that you recommend but do not make mandatory.

Mandatory vs. Recommended COVID-19 Vaccination Programs

Employers recommending the vaccine but not making it mandatory must make it clear to their workers that the vaccine is truly voluntary. If an employee chooses not to be vaccinated, it cannot affect their performance rating, professional advancement, or have any other negative repercussions.

Employers should carefully consider any incentive programs to ensure they do not unintentionally make vaccination mandatory. For example, if employees were to receive a cash bonus if they are vaccinated, employees could be pressured into vaccinations since they would lose out on the incentives. This would undermine the premise that the program is voluntary.

There are many scenarios in which an employee may recommend, but not require, COVID-19 vaccination. This can include making the vaccine available to employees at work, offering the vaccine as part of a voluntary health and wellness program and/or making arrangements for employees to be vaccinated at an offsite location.

Many companies are making it mandatory for employees of their contractors to be vaccinated in order to be permitted on their property. If employees of contractor employers cannot choose to forgo the vaccine without fearing negative consequences, then the vaccine is not just “recommended,” and contractor employers should consult the above guidelines regarding reporting requirements for vaccine-related illness.

Get OSHA Support

Employers who are updating their COVID-19 policies on vaccinations and returning employees to the workplace must carefully consider the recordability of vaccine related reactions on their OSHA 300 logs. This means determining whether making vaccination mandatory and the resultant risk of more OSHA 300 recordable illnesses is necessary for their business. If employers recommend the vaccine without making it mandatory, they need to carefully review OSHA’s guidance to make sure their program is truly voluntary.

For help in developing and implementing your OSHA COVID-19 compliance programs, contact Tetra Tech’s health and safety experts at healthandsafety@tetratech.com. We can help you examine your workplace vaccine program and return to work policies, and walk you through how to report possible related illness and reactions relating to the COVID-19 vaccine.