HHS COVID-19 Workplace Safety Plan

1. Purpose

The purpose of this document is to provide implementation guidance for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Workplace Safety Plan.  This implementation guidance applies HHS-wide to all Operating and Staff Divisions (Components or Divisions) and puts the health and safety of all Federal employees, on-site contractors, visitors, and their families at the center.  This plan takes a safe, iterative, science-driven approach and replaces previously published guidance from February 2021.  This document follows Safer Federal Workforce Task Force (updated September 13, 2021), Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Memorandum 21-25 (issued June 10, 2021), as well as the earlier OMB Memorandum 21-15 (issued January 14, 2021), Executive Orders 14042 and 14043, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidance on protecting workers,  as well as additional recommendations and guidance from the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force. In implementing Executive Order 14042, the Department will comply with all relevant court orders, including by following relevant OMB and Safer Federal Workforce Task Force guidance.

2. Background

HHS shifted to maximum telework on March 16, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On January 24, 2021, OMB issued updated guidance, Memorandum 21-15, COVID-19 Safe Federal Workplace: Agency Model Safety Principles, to ensure a safer federal workforce.  In accordance with Memorandum 21-15, HHS issued its COVID-19 Workplace Safety Plan and Implementation Guidance.

On January 29, 2021, OSHA issued Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplaceand subsequently updated this guidance on June 10, 2021, and August 13, 2021. OSHA also issued the COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) for Healthcare on June 17, 2021, and it became effective on June 21, 2021. The ETS for Healthcare is applicable only for healthcare and related settings; the Protecting Workers guidance is applicable in any setting not covered by the ETS (e.g., HHS non-healthcare facilities).

On June 10, 2021, OMB issued updated guidance, Memorandum 21-25, Integrating Planning for a Safe Increased Return of Federal Employees and Contractors to Physical Workplaces with Post-Reentry Personnel Policies and Work Environment.

On July 29, 2021, the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force (“Task Force”) issued updates to COVID-19 Workplace Safety: Agency Model Safety Principles.

On September 9, 2021, President Biden issued Executive Orders on Requiring Coronavirus Disease 2019 Vaccination for Federal Employees and on Ensuring Adequate COVID Safety Protocols for Federal Contractors (E.O. 14043 and E.O. 14042 respectively).

On September 13, 2021, the Task Force issued updates to COVID-19 Workplace Safety: Agency Model Safety Principles, which inform this updated Safety Plan. The Task Force also regularly provides additional guidance and recommendations for agency COVID-19 workplace safety protocols through various new and updated frequently asked questions (FAQs).

Pursuant to Memorandum 21-25, E.O. 14042, E.O. 14043, and subsequent Task Force guidance, HHS issues this updated HHS COVID-19 Workplace Safety Plan and Implementation Guidance, which rescinds and supersedes the previously issued version of February 22, 2021.

3.  Updated Actions

  1. HHS actions to date include:
    1. Following Task Force recommendations. The Task Force comprises the White House COVID-19 Response Team, OMB, the General Services Administration (GSA), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Federal Protective Service (FPS), and the United States Secret Service (USSS).
    2. Review of the safety principles included in OMB Memorandum 21-15 and OMB Memorandum 21-25 and adaption as necessary to meet the needs of the HHS workforce.
    3. Designation of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration (ASA) as the lead for the HHS Return to Workplace Initiative, and coordination of COVID-19 workplace safety principles, for all Federal employees, on-site contractors, and visitors at HHS facilities and at HHS-occupied space.
    4. Establishment of a Return to Workplace (RTWP) Task Force composed of HHS Components’ Chief Operating Officers and Executive Officers, the Office of Human Resources (OHR), National Labor & Employee Relations Office (LR), the Program Support Center (PSC), the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO), Executive Leadership from the Immediate Office of the Secretary (IOS) or designated representatives, the Office of the General Counsel (OGC), a CDC Public Health expert, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (ASPA), Office of the Assistant Secretary for Financial Resources (ASFR), and other appropriate representatives.
  2. Pursuant to Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, OMB, OPM, and GSA guidance, HHS will take the following actions:
    1. Continue to update this plan/implementation guidance as more information is available from the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force and other Federal partners.
    2. Communicate this plan/implementation guidance to HHS Components to inform Federal employees, on-site contractors, and visitors of current and upcoming policy changes.
  3. Prior to increasing occupancy in physical workplaces, HHS Components will:
    1. Ensure updates to their COVID-19 workplace safety plans in accordance with this HHS Workplace Safety Plan/Implementation Guidance.
    2. Ensure continued engagement in the Return to Workplace Task Force.
    3. Complete phased plans for return to the workplace, implement COVID-19 workplace safety plans pursuant to current guidance (described above), satisfy any applicable collective bargaining obligations, and provide ample notice to any affected employees.
    4. Consult with ASA if there is a need to increase occupancy prior to the Agency-wide timeline for phased return to the workplace in order to meet urgent, mission-critical needs, to ensure coordination with and approval by the Office of the Secretary (OS), in consultation with the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, as appropriate.
    5. Continue to report all known COVID-19 positive cases using the COVID-19 Information Portal or subsequent reporting solution.  If the employee or contractor was on-site, report building location, the floor and date to initiate cleaning and disinfection (if warranted), and contact tracing.
    6. Confer with ASFR on implementation of the COVID-19 workplace safety principles applicable to contractors.

4.  Workplace Health and Safety Principles

Workplace health and safety at HHS involves all employees at the individual level and multiple stakeholders, including leadership from all HHS Components’ Facility Security Committees and Designated Officials (in the case of multiple federal Agency involvement), building facility managers, HHS policy authorities, medical officers, public health experts, and ASA staff.  The principles presented here are in alignment with the latest guidance from the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, CDC, and OSHA, and establish public health best practices for HHS workplaces based on our evolving understanding of the pandemic.  Principles will be reassessed and updated over time, as conditions warrant.  HHS will continue proactive and iterative engagement with Federal employee unions on policies and their implementation.  The minimum standards outlined below apply unless an existing CBA provides a more protective standard in which case the CBA applies.

Telework, Remote Work and Flexible Work Schedules

  • As of October 29, 2021, HHS is following the Federal Government’s nationwide operating status, which is currently “Open with maximum telework flexibilities to all current telework eligible employees, pursuant to direction from Agency heads.”  New employees will follow the onboarding instructions provided by the employing HHS Components Human Resources Center.  During HHS’   phased return to the workplace, every effort will be made to maximize the use of workplace flexibilities. Leadership of HHS Components will utilize telework, flexible work schedules, and remote work consistent with the applicable regulations and policies, including the Department’s plans for reentry and post-reentry.
    • Employees currently on maximum telework status may continue to telework and will be given advance notice (at least 30 days or as appropriate based on labor negotiations), and guidance before returning to the physical workplace.
    • Components may also continue use of Flexible Work Schedules (FWS), following a fair and equitable process and in alignment with any CBA, to allow federal employees to vary their work schedule in accordance with HHS Instruction 610-1: Establishing and Administrating Hours of Duty Policy.  Divisions may limit on-site flexible hours in accordance with screening procedures or to avoid incurring additional facilities related costs such as, overtime utilities.


  • Federal Executive Branch employees must be fully vaccinated by November 22, 2021, except in limited circumstances where an employee is legally entitled to an accommodation, pursuant to E.O. 14043, Requiring Coronavirus Disease 2019 Vaccination for Federal Employees.  Employees covered by Executive Order 14043 who fail to comply with a requirement to be fully vaccinated or provide proof of vaccination and have neither received an exception nor have an exception request under consideration, are in violation of a lawful order. Employees who violate lawful orders are subject to discipline, up to and including termination or removal. Consistent with the Administration’s policy, the agency will initiate an enforcement process to work with employees to encourage their compliance. The Department will require Federal employees who start their government service after November 22, 2021, to be fully vaccinated prior to their start date, except in limited circumstances where an accommodation is legally required. Employees who are on maximum telework or working remotely are not excused from this requirement.
  • For purposes of this plan, HHS considers its employees, onsite contractor employees, and visitors fully vaccinated for COVID-19 two weeks after they have received the requisite number of doses of a COVID-19 vaccine approved or authorized for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or that has been listed for emergency use by the World Health Organization. For Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, or AstraZeneca/Oxford, that is 2 weeks after an employee has received the second dose in a 2-dose series. For Johnson and Johnson (J&J)/Janssen, that is 2 weeks after an employee has received a single dose. Clinical trial participants from a U.S. site who are documented to have received the full series of an “active” (not placebo) COVID-19 vaccine candidate, for which vaccine efficacy has been independently confirmed (e.g., by a data and safety monitoring board), can be considered fully vaccinated 2 weeks after they have completed the vaccine series. Currently, the U.S.-based AstraZeneca and Novavax COVID-19 vaccines meet these criteria.
  • The Department has authorized any federal employee to utilize duty time to attend appointments for required COVID-19 vaccination dose(s).  An employee who experiences an adverse reaction to a COVID-19 vaccination that prevents them from working is entitled up to two days of paid leave. In addition, consistent with HHS policy, an employee is eligible to receive paid leave to accompany family members receiving a COVID-19 vaccination and to receive additional doses (e.g. boosters).  Paid leave is otherwise known as Administrative Leave and is a leave type hour code used to account for an employee’s excused time away from work during the duty day.  Please consult your servicing Human Resources Center for additional information on the leave-related benefits. In most circumstances, HHS authorizes employees to take up to four hours to travel to the vaccination site, complete any vaccination dose, and return to work—for example, up to eight hours of duty time for employees receiving two doses. (If an employee needs to spend less time getting the vaccine, only the needed amount of duty time should be granted.) HHS requires employees taking longer than four hours to document the reasons for the additional time (e.g., they may need to travel long distances to get the vaccine). If, due to unforeseen circumstances, the employee is unable to obtain the vaccine during basic tour of duty hours, the normal overtime hours of work rules apply.
  • Based on an evolving understanding of the pandemic, employees will comply with all Executive Orders, SaferFederalWorkforce guidance, and the latest guidance from CDC for employers and for fully vaccinated people and OSHA on protecting workers.
  • The Department will collect information necessary to verify that an employee is fully vaccinated to include the type of vaccine administered, the number of doses received, date of administration of each dose, and the submission of an approved form of required documentation (copy of the record of immunization from a health care provider or pharmacy, a copy of the COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card, a copy of medical records documenting the vaccination, a copy of immunization records from a public health or state immunization information system, or a copy of any other official documentation containing required data points).  A recent antibody test cannot be used to prove vaccination status.  Such information is collected and maintained in accordance with any applicable Federal laws, including requirements under the Privacy Act.
  • Additionally, the President has required that most Federal contractor employees will be required to be vaccinated pursuant to E.O. 14042, Ensuring Adequate COVID Safety Protocols for Federal Contractors.  Onsite contractor employees who are not yet contractually required to be vaccinated and visitors must attest to their vaccination status and to the truthfulness of the response they provide. When an individual discloses that they are not fully vaccinated or declines to provide information on their vaccination status, the Department will treat that individual as not fully vaccinated for purposes of implementing safety measures. In requesting this information, the Department will comply with any applicable Federal laws, including requirements under the Privacy Act and the Paperwork Reduction Act.
  • Any vaccination-related responses to Department or HHS Component inquiries must comply with any applicable laws, including requirements under HIPAA, the Privacy Act, and the Paperwork Reduction Act, and any applicable collective bargaining obligations.
  • Vaccination status inquiries for federal employees may be automated and kept on file and made accessible to officials requiring the information for official purposes such as determining applicable safety protocols, testing requirements, travel limitations, etc.  Such information will not be kept in an employee’s official personnel folder.  Divisions will not collect and maintain vaccination-status disclosure forms from onsite contractor employees at this time unless the Division has a system of records notice that covers its collection of this information.
  • The Department will take steps to promote privacy and IT security and consult with its Agency Records Officer, Chief Information Officer, Chief Information Security Officer, and Senior Agency Official for Privacy to determine the best means to maintain this information to meet the agency’s needs.
  • Prior to contractor employees being subject to a contractual requirement to be vaccinated, agencies need to ask about the vaccination status of those onsite contractor employees. Onsite contractor employees must attest to the truthfulness of the response they provide. If an onsite contractor employee chooses not to provide a response, they will be treated as not fully vaccinated for the purpose of agency safety protocols. In requesting this information, the agency should comply with any applicable Federal laws, including requirements under the Privacy Act and the Paperwork Reduction Act.
  • The requirement to provide information about vaccination status or proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test does not apply to members of the public entering a Federal building or Federal land to obtain a public service or benefit.
  • Additional details on vaccinations can be found on the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force website FAQs.

Limited Legally Required Exceptions

  • HHS employees must be fully vaccinated in accordance with applicable guidance (i.e., E.O. 14043) other than in limited circumstances where the law requires an exception. In particular, the agency may be required to provide an accommodation to employees who communicate to the agency that they are not vaccinated against COVID-19 because of a disability or because of a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance. Determining whether an exception is legally required will include consideration of factors such as the basis for the claim; the nature of the employee’s job responsibilities; and the reasonably foreseeable effects on the agency’s operations, including protecting other agency employees and the public from COVID-19.
  • HHS has procedures to process requests from employees for legally required exceptions to the requirement for employees to be fully vaccinated.  Contractors will establish procedures for contractor employees.
  • If an employee’s request for accommodation is denied, the employee will be given a reasonable time frame to become fully vaccinated.
  • Generally, HHS employees who are approved for accommodation would need to follow applicable masking, physical distancing, testing protocols for individuals who are not fully vaccinated, and travel guidance for unvaccinated individuals, as well as any other applicable safety measure(s).
  • Covered contractors are also required to be fully vaccinated in accordance with E.O. 14042.  Covered contractor employers are responsible for addressing limited legally required exceptions requested by covered contractor employees.

Attestation Procedures

  • Attestation procedures for contractor employees and visitors will follow the below general guidance:
    • The Division provides visitors with the Certification of Vaccination form when they enter a Federal building or federally controlled indoor worksite.
    • The Division directs visitors to complete the Certification of Vaccination form and keep it with them during their time on Federal premises—visitors may be asked to show the form upon entry to a Federal building or Federally controlled indoor worksite.
    • Divisions may email the Certification of Vaccination form to visitors in advance of arrival or utilize a tool or application to share the form with visitors and enable visitors to easily complete it, but the agency will not maintain Certification of Vaccination forms from visitors.
    • For those visitors who do not have access to email or applications, Divisions have determined the best method of distribution, including by having printed copies of the form at the entry point to the worksite.
    • Divisions will not ask visitors for vaccination documentation to verify their attestation.
    • Contractor employees and visitors who are not fully vaccinated must provide proof of a current negative COVID-19 test result (within last 3 days) in order to be admitted to HHS locations.  Divisions must ensure a review/verification process is implemented to verify information on required forms.
    • These same procedures may apply to HHS employees who are not fully vaccinated due to an approved or pending legally required exception

Visitors seeking public service or benefits to which the individual is entitled, such as monetary benefit payments or required adjudicative appointments or hearings will not be required to attest to vaccination status or provide a COVID-19 test result.

Face Masks

  • Components will follow CDC guidance regarding face mask requirements (including guidance related to transmission areas) and Safer Federal Workforce Task Force model safety principles.
  • Mitigation measures like masking and physically distancing in Federal buildings or on Federal land should follow Federal, State, local, Tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations.  Components should determine the transmission rate in their local area by referencing the CDC COVID-19 Data Tracker County View.  Components may use discretion in determining the counties relevant to the determination of the level of community transmission related to each agency facility and may consider factors such as commuting patterns in that determination.   For example, agencies may consider the county in which an agency facility is located, the transmission levels of surrounding local counties from which employees and visitors travel to the facility, and transmission levels in counties through which employees based at a given facility regularly travel over the course of their work in the field and between various work sites.  Additionally, Components will assess transmission rates at least weekly.  When the level of transmission related to a given federal facility increases from low or moderate to substantial or high, federal agencies should put in place more protective safety protocols consistent with CDC guidelines and guidance from the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force as soon as operationally feasible. The agency should not wait, for example, for a multi-day or multi-week trend to be established.  However, when the level of transmission related to a given federal facility is reduced from high or substantial to moderate or low, the level of transmission must remain at that lower level for at least two consecutive weeks before the agency utilizes those protocols recommended for areas of moderate or low transmission by CDC guidelines and guidance from the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force. Where a locality imposes more protective pandemic-related safety requirements, those requirements should be followed by federal employees and onsite contractor employees, in federal buildings, in federally controlled indoor worksites, and on federal lands within that locality.
  • Notice of face mask requirements and other safety measures, via written signage, will be posted conspicuously at each public entrance to HHS workplaces, and will be made available to those who need assistance (e.g., accommodations).  Components should consult with their servicing Equal Employment Opportunity Office for further guidance.
  • If masks are required:
  • Appropriate masks (i.e., a mask that covers the nose and mouth, and is in accordance with current CDC and OSHA guidance) should be worn where necessary, per CDC guidelines.
  • Individuals may be asked to lower their masks briefly for identification purposes in compliance with safety and security requirements.    
  • Masks do not provide the same level of protection as N95 respirators and should not replace that personal protective equipment (PPE) where required or recommended for duty.
  • Masks do not provide the same level of protection as N95 respirators and should not replace that personal protective equipment (PPE) where required or recommended for duty.
  • If members of the public entering a Federal building or Federal land to obtain a public service or benefit are not fully vaccinated, these visitors must comply with all relevant CDC guidance, including wearing a mask and physically distancing from other people.  Visitors entering to obtain a public service or benefit do not have to attest to their vaccination status. The agency has signage to this effect, information about this on their website, and otherwise communicates this information to its visitors seeking public services or benefits.


  • In the event a federal employee or contractor employee requires or desires a COVID-19 test that is not related to the performance of their duties, they should contact their healthcare provider.  Time required to participate in non-work-related testing is non-duty time.
  • HHS may provide testing programs funded and developed within HHS Divisions to meet Division specific requirements and/or where required by other applicable guidance (e.g., screening testing, testing required due to worksite exposure, testing required to support official visits to another Agency, or for official travel).
  • Time required to participate in a screening testing program will be considered as duty time for federal employees and should generally be limited to one hour per testing cycle.
  • For additional information, please review the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force FAQs related to testing.
  • Under OSHA’s recordkeeping requirements, if an employee tests positive for SARS-CoV-2 infection, the case must be recorded on the OSHA Illness and Injury Log if each of the following conditions are met: (1) the case is a confirmed case of COVID-19; (2) the case is work-related (as defined by 29 CFR 1904.5); and (3) the case involves one or more relevant recording criteria (set forth in 29 CFR 1904.7) (e.g., medical treatment beyond first aid, days away from work). HHS follows state and county reporting requirements and complies with state and county contact tracing efforts.
  • Contractor employees (that are not covered by the vaccine requirement pursuant to E.O. 14042) and visitors who attest to not being fully vaccinated (or who decline to provide vaccination status) will be required to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test that was conducted no more than 3 days prior to reporting on-site. These personnel should furnish a paper copy of their negative test results upon entry at an HHS facility and retain these results on their person while in an HHS facility, along with their paper attestation form.

Contact Tracing

  • HHS Components will coordinate with all impacted Components and the PSC or appropriate facilities staff to implement infection control and workplace safety efforts once informed of a case of COVID-19 (either due to specific symptoms or positive test).  In instances where the HHS Component is providing onsite testing, the Division will also alert local public health authorities of any confirmed COVID-19 cases.
  • Employees and contractors must report the infection of an HHS employee or contractor with COVID-19 to the immediate supervisor of the impacted employee or contractor. In turn, the immediate supervisor must promptly notify the designated representative within their Division for COVID-19 safety protocols (e.g., COO, XO, or identified facilities member). Contract supervisors will also, in turn, inform the CO and the COR of any positive cases.
  • HHS Components will provide recommended CDC guidance to impacted employees or contractors regarding isolation and testing procedures, ensure that notifications to other impacted employees and contractors deemed close contacts of the confirmed positive case has occurred (consistent with local and Federal privacy and confidentiality regulations and laws), and confirm negative COVID-19 test results for all employees or contractors who have tested positive or who are deemed close contacts of the confirmed COVID-19 case prior to their returning to the work setting.
  • If COVID-19 cases occur within a specific building or work setting, Component representatives will record the positive case by number and location only (no names) in the HHS COVID-19 Information Portal or subsequent reporting solution maintained by the HHS OHR.  Components will be transparent and timely in communicating related information to the workforce, as relevant, appropriate, and consistent with local and Federal privacy and confidentiality regulations and laws.


Symptom Monitoring

  • If Federal employees, on-site contractor employees, or visitors exhibit any COVID-19 symptoms, they shall not enter the Federal workplace.
  • Federal employees and contractor employees working on-site may be asked to complete symptom screening (e.g., a symptom questionnaire, an exposure history questionnaire, a temperature check), on a daily basis or upon entry to the workplace.  Symptom screening and monitoring may vary by workplace.  HHS Components will use this information to assess the individual’s risk level and to determine whether they should be allowed entry to the workplace.  Visitors may also be asked to complete symptom screening before entering a Federal facility.  Components may also consider using mobile/web application tools to help facilitate this process.
  • Any individual who develops symptoms consistent with COVID-19 during the workday must immediately isolate, notify their supervisor (contractor employees should contact their company supervisor, as well as follow these guidelines), promptly leave the workplace and seek medical attention and testing.  A symptom list requiring immediate medical attention can be accessed on the CDC website.
  • Any individual who tests positive for COVID-19 should immediately report their status to their supervisor (contractor employees should report their status to their contract supervisor).

Quarantine and Isolation

  • Individuals should quarantine if they have been in close contact (within 6 feet of someone for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period) with someone who has COVID-19, unless they have been fully vaccinated and are asymptomatic in accordance with CDC quarantine and isolation guidelines.
  • Any individual with a suspected exposure or confirmed COVID-19 will be advised to isolate, pursuant to CDC quarantine and isolation guidelines, and in compliance with local laws/regulations. 
  • The Department advises its employees and onsite contractor employees who have been fully vaccinated and have had close contact with someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 to get tested 5-7 days after exposure, even if they do not have symptoms. The agency also advises these individuals that they should also wear a mask indoors in public for 14 days following exposure or until their test result is negative. If their test result is positive, they should isolate for 10 days.


  • All medical information that may be collected from federal employees, including COVID-19 vaccination status, test results and any other information obtained as a result of testing and symptom screening and monitoring, will be treated confidentially in accordance with applicable law, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and Privacy Act, and accessible only by those with a need to know in order to protect the health and safety of personnel.
  • Supervisors are deemed as having a valid need for employee vaccination status to ensure compliance with appropriate safety protocols.  Additionally, COs and CORs are deemed as having a valid need for contractor employee vaccination status (and test results, where applicable).
  • Accessibility of federal employees’ medical information related to COVID-19 will comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA), the Rehabilitation Act, and other EEO laws.  Additional guidance is available at What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws.  Medical information will “be treated as a confidential medical record” and be “collected and maintained on separate forms and in separate medical files.”  29 C.F.R. § 1630.14 (c)(1).

Workplace Occupancy

  • OMB Memorandum 21-25 removed any mandated occupancy limits in workplaces.  However, prior to increasing the number of employees in the physical workplace, an HHS Component must have their phased plan for return to the workplace approved by the ASA (through the Return to Workplace Planning Team); ensure it has an updated COVID-19 workplace safety plan pursuant to current Safer Federal Workplace Task Force, CDC, and OSHA guidelines; satisfy any applicable collective bargaining obligations; and provide ample notice to any affected employees. 
  • Consult with the ASA (through the Return to Workplace Planning Team) if there is a need to increase occupancy to meet urgent, mission-critical needs, to ensure coordination with and approval by OS, OMB, OPM, and GSA.
  • HHS Components hosting in-person meetings, conferences, or events that will be attended by more than 50 participants will follow Agency guidance on approval of such an event.  It is recommended that if the number of participants may exceed 50, although it is not confirmed to be over 50 participants, the Component should submit a request for approval of an event with more than 50 participants.  Requests for approval will be submitted to ASA for review/approval at least 10 business days prior to announcement of the scheduled event.  The request must be first approved by the Component Chief Operating Officer/Executive Officer, Component Head, COVID-19 Team, and PSC Safety Team prior to submission to the ASA.
  • Components may establish occupancy limits for specific workplaces as a means of ensuring physical distancing between unvaccinated individuals.  PSC conducted an assessment of PSC-managed workplaces -- including a review of floor to ceiling walled offices and cubicles -- which included recommended safe occupancy limit and drawings indicating physical distancing requirements.  HHS Components are encouraged to use this information as necessary to continue operations and, if appropriate, consider formally coordinating duty schedules in shared spaces to ensure any space concerns are appropriately resolved.

Physical Distancing

  • Components may establish occupancy limits for specific workplaces as a means of ensuring physical distancing. When it is not possible to ascertain vaccination status (e.g., individuals moving through a common area), Components should ensure they implement mitigation measures recommended by the Safer Federal Workplace Task Force, CDC, and OSHA, including masking and physical distancing. Area signage will be posted to communicate changes in the most practical and accessible way possible considering employees requiring accommodations.

Environmental Cleaning

  • In some locations, facilities personnel may conduct enhanced cleaning in common use/high touch/high-density spaces, such as lobbies, restrooms, elevators, and stairwells.  Office space that is in regular use will be cleaned regularly, and in accordance with CDC cleaning and disinfection guidelines and OSHA guidelines. Divisions will also make available wipes and other EPA-approved disinfectants, as necessary, for individuals to wipe down their workstation and related personal property within their occupied areas.  Alternative materials to accommodate employees with allergies will be considered.  Physical barriers -- such as plexiglass shields -- may be installed, where appropriate.
  • In the event of a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 in the workplace (if the individual had been in the building within the previous 24 hours), enhanced environmental cleaning and disinfection will be performed in accordance with CDC and GSA guidance. More frequent cleaning or disinfecting may also be indicated if certain conditions apply.
  • Personnel and visitors may be asked to vacate the affected space until the cleaning or disinfection is completed, as described below:
    • If more than 24 hours have passed since the person who is sick or diagnosed with COVID-19 has been in the space, cleaning is enough.
    • If more than 3 days have passed since the person who is sick or diagnosed with COVID-19 has been in the space, no additional cleaning (beyond regular cleaning practices) is needed.
    • If enhanced cleaning is required, the Component will wait as long as possible (at least several hours) before cleaning and disinfecting. Extended wait periods allow increased opportunity for viral deactivation to occur naturally, while also allowing time for aerosols to settle, prior to surface disinfection.
  • For PSC-controlled buildings, HHS’s COVID-19 Team, in consultation with Component leadership, will determine the appropriate scope of workplace closures—in some cases, it may be a suite of offices or part of a floor; in other cases, it may include an entire building. Components with delegated operating authority will consult with HHS’s COVID-19 Team in making these decisions for their workplaces.


  • Hand sanitizer stations are to be available at the building entrance and throughout workspaces and should contain Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved hand sanitizer, with at least 60% ethanol (alcohol).  Personnel will be encouraged to wash their hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer or alcohol-based hand rubs frequently.  Signage indicating CDC guidance will be used in the workplace.

Ventilation and Air Filtration

  • Additional modifications may be considered in accordance with CDC and OSHA guidance, including as workforce density increases.  To the maximum extent feasible, indoor ventilation will be optimized to increase the proportion of outdoor ventilation, improve filtration, and reduce or eliminate recirculation.

Staggered Work Times and Cohort-Based Scheduling

  • HHS Components may elect to stagger work times using FWS to reduce density, minimize traffic volume in elevators, and avoid crowds during commuting.  Examples are available at OPM Flexible Work Schedules and should be in compliance with applicable policies and collective bargaining agreements. Questions or for assistance in identifying appropriate flexibilities, contact your servicing HR office.


  • Occupational health professionals in coordination with PSC or Component facilities leadership will determine safe occupancy on elevators.  Signage, reasonably accessible to employees, will be posted to explain current procedures.

Shared Spaces and Equipment

  • Shared spaces include elevators, hallways, stairwells, cafeterias or kitchens, restrooms, and other facility-specific shared spaces.  Visual markers accessible to all persons may be installed to promote physical distancing within common spaces, and furniture may also be removed.  Steps may be taken to limit the number of people who can use common spaces at any one time, and signage outlining these limits should be prominently displayed and reasonably accessible to all employees.  More information on shared office spaces can be found at CDC.gov.
  • Shared tools and equipment must be disinfected by users anytime the equipment is used by or transferred to a new person, and disinfectant wipes will be provided to the extent possible by the Component.  This includes phones, computers, shared printers, and other communication devices, kitchen utensils, and other office equipment.  Refrigerators, water coolers, and coffee brewers with disposable cups (or a personal re-usable cup/container) and single serve condiments and creamers may be used with proper hand hygiene. Additional information on cleaning and disinfecting can be found at CDC.gov.


  • Leave related to quarantine. The agency makes employees aware that official or personal travel may result in a mandatory quarantine before they are allowed to return to the workplace. If quarantine is required because of official travel or workplace exposure, the agency provides weather and safety leave, or other administrative leave.  If quarantine is required because of personal travel, and the employee is otherwise expected to be present onsite, the employee may take personal leave while quarantining. If an employee refuses to quarantine or refuses to take personal leave while under mandatory quarantine after personal travel, the agency may elect to bar the employee from the workplace for the safety of others. If the agency bars the employee from the workplace, the employee must be placed on administrative leave until the agency determines what status the employee should be placed in while on quarantine. The agency, however, should avoid placing an employee on extended administrative leave in this situation and should act quickly to determine the appropriate status for the employee.
  • Leave related to isolation due to SARS-CoV-2 infection. If an employee is subject to isolation due to being infected with COVID-19 and is unable to telework, the employee may request sick leave, as weather and safety leave would be unavailable. Employees may also request accrued annual leave and other forms of paid or unpaid leave in this situation as appropriate. (See OPM CPM 2020-02, February 7, 2020)

5.  Points of Contact

All questions regarding the HHS COVID-19 Workplace Safety Plan and Implementation Guidance may be addressed to the Return to Workplace Task Force [email protected]

Additional Information for Component Leadership to Consider

Appendix A: Additional Resources

The following provides additional resources for Components to inform their return to normal operations:

Resource URL
General CDC Guidance https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
Vaccines for COVID-19 https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/index.html
CDC Guidance for People Fully Vaccinated https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/fully-vaccinated.html
CDC Guidance for Workplaces https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/workplaces-businesses/index.html
Executive Order on Ensuring Adequate COVID Safety Protocols for Federal Contractors (E.O. 14042) https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/09/09/executive-order-on-ensuring-adequate-covid-safety-protocols-for-federal-contractors/
Executive Order on Requiring Coronavirus Disease 2019 Vaccination for Federal Employees (E.O. 14043) https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/09/09/executive-order-on-requiring-coronavirus-disease-2019-vaccination-for-federal-employees/
COVID-19 Workplace Safety: Guidance for Federal Contractors and Subcontractors https://www.saferfederalworkforce.gov/downloads/Draft%20contractor%20guidance%20doc_20210922
Safer Federal Workforce Task Force Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) https://www.saferfederalworkforce.gov/faq/
Safer Federal Workforce Task Force COVID-19 Workplace Safety: Agency Model Safety Principles https://www.saferfederalworkforce.gov/downloads/updates%20to%20model%20safety%20principles%209.13.21
OSHA: Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace https://www.osha.gov/coronavirus/safework https://www.osha.gov/coronavirus
OSHA: COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard for Healthcare https://www.osha.gov/coronavirus/ets

Appendix B: Component Reporting Requirements

COVID-19 Reporting

HHS Components will report all Federal employee COVID-19 positive cases; COVID-19 Workers’ Compensation; and any on-site (Federal or Contractor) potential or confirmed COVID-19 exposures to the Workforce Operations Center via the HHS COVID-19 Information Portal or subsequent reporting solution.  Contract employees will report positive cases to their contract supervisors and contract supervisors will inform the CO and COR of any positive cases.  The HHS COVID-19 Information Portal or subsequent reporting solution is used to track COVID-19 positive cases and COVID-19 related worker’s compensation.  Questions regarding this reporting may be sent to [email protected].

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