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J. J. Keller Pulse Poll Reveals Employer Reaction to Proposed COVID-19 Federal Workplace Standards

News Summary

  • 80% of employers surveyed said they are very or somewhat familiar with the proposed federal mandate, even though it hasn’t been unveiled yet.
  • Having federal COVID-19 workplace standards is polarizing. While many believe it’s positive, nearly half have some negative feelings associated with the proposed mandate.
  • Support for a federal mandate is lowest among small employers (100 or fewer employees).
  • A common criticism against a federal mandate is that employers have already implemented many of the anticipated standards, driven by local or state regulations.
  • 45% of employers surveyed are concerned with challenges such as conflicting federal and state/local mandates.

The J. J. Keller Center for Market Insights today released results from its Pulse Poll: Employer Reactions to Proposed COVID-19 Federal Workplace Standards. The poll is the latest in an ongoing series of studies by the research arm of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc., the nation’s leading provider of safety and regulatory compliance solutions for businesses. The anonymous poll, fielded from February 1 to February 5, 2021, measured more than 600 employers’ comfort and concern with the proposed standards.

President Biden issued the executive order “Protecting the Federal Workforce and Requiring Mask-Wearing” on January 21, 2021. The order calls for the U.S. Department of Labor to issue new guidance for employers in order to protect workers from and reduce the spread of COVID-19. Examples might be measures such as allowing remote work, requiring masks or face coverings to be worn by employees and visitors, limiting office capacity, symptom monitoring and special cleaning.

More on key findings from the poll follow:

Employers Feel Familiar with the Mandate

In the J. J. Keller Center for Market Insights Pulse Poll, 80% of employers said they are very or somewhat familiar with the proposed federal mandate.

“This is surprising, because the mandate standards haven’t been unveiled yet,” said Eden Weller, senior customer and market insights manager for the center. “It may be that employers anticipate the new standards will be similar to current CDC and OSHA guidance.”

  • Familiarity Based on Business Size: Small employers were by far the least familiar (53%) with the executive order and mandate. Smaller organizations are less likely to have a dedicated individual watching for regulatory changes such as a federal COVID-19 standard.
  • Familiarity Based on Industry: When poll respondents were categorized by industry, employers in transportation were the least familiar (73%) with the executive order and mandate.

Federal COVID-19 Standards: Necessary … Yet Somewhat Negative

Most employers polled (72%) agreed that a federal COVID-19 mandate is completely or somewhat necessary to protect workers.

“That’s a fairly high percentage of employers agreeing with a proposed OSHA standard,” said Weller, “when we consider the response to standards introduced in the past.”

  • Support Based on Business Size: Support is lowest (66%) among small employers (under 10), grows in the 26- to 100-employee range (to 75%), then drops again (to 66%) with larger organizations.
  • Support Based on Industry: Support for a federal mandate was highest (79%) among health/education/government/nonprofit businesses and lowest (66%) among those in construction/mining.

Across all business types, nearly half had at least some negative feelings (12% negative, 31% mixed) about a standard. The J. J. Keller Center for Market Insights indicates the crossover is not necessarily contradictory, because employers might believe something is necessary yet still have concerns about costs or business impacts.

A common criticism employers expressed is that they have already implemented the expected requirements, per local or state regulations. Most companies polled (98%) have measures in place to protect workers and prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as hand sanitizer availability, extra cleaning protocols in place and mask requirements.

Fig. 1. Response to Poll Question

J.J. Keller

The Challenges of a Federal COVID-19 Mandate for Employers

The workplace challenge shared by more than half (51%) of employers in the pulse poll was the cost and productivity impact of complying with new COVID-19 standards. However, 40% to 45% of employers were also concerned with challenges including:

  • Keeping up with changing COVID-19 guidance
  • Conflicts between current and future guidance
  • Conflicts between federal, state and local mandates
  • Training employees in complying with mandates
  • Opening up the company to potential lawsuits based on technicalities

Fig. 2. Response to Poll Question

J.J. Keller

“The challenges employers anticipate seem to be in line with the challenges employers have with any OSHA rulemaking,” said Weller.

  • Challenges Based on Business Size: Employers of 100 or fewer employees are most concerned about challenges associated with COVID-19 workplace safety standards.
  • Challenges Based on Industry: Manufacturing, energy and food industries, closely followed by construction and mining are most concerned about challenges associated with COVID-19 workplace safety standards.

“A year ago, at the onset of the pandemic, the prospect of getting everything in place to comply with new COVID-19 workplace standards may have been daunting for employers. Today, with many having already implemented CDC guidance, and having experienced and addressed so many issues, most employers are likely in ‘maintenance’ mode rather than building a program. This allows for more confidence. Maintaining and updating a program is easier than building one from scratch, and employers have likely practiced making adjustments over the past many months.”

Where employers have opportunity to improve workplace standards preventing the spread of COVID-19 may be in the area of training employees on how to properly follow the standards. While most employers polled said they had taken steps to address COVID-19, only 67% had trained all employees on those steps.

In Summary

The pulse poll shows that more than half of employers don’t expect significant burdens with a new federal COVID-19 mandate. By and large, employers are already doing much of what they expect will be required, and thus the implementation costs are behind them. The greatest concerns about new requirements for employers are among the smallest businesses.

About the J. J. Keller Center for Market Insights

The J. J. Keller Center for Market Insights is the collaborative research arm of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. The center originated in 2019 with a focus on sharing, with the public, trends and insights from an abundance of safety and compliance data gathered by J. J. Keller over decades serving more than 700,000 customers across the United States. Through historical data, new proprietary studies and partnerships with reputable, research-focused third-party organizations, the center publishes ongoing reports to spur discussion and advancements in safe, respectful workplaces, job sites and highways. To contact the J. J. Keller Center for Market Insights, contact

About J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. is the nation’s leading provider of regulatory, safety and compliance solutions, serving more than 500,000 customers, including 90% of the Fortune 1000® companies. Organizations of all sizes rely on our expert insights to help create safe work environments and simplify the complexities of regulatory compliance. Our diversified portfolio of solutions and services including online management tools, publications, training, forms, supplies, consulting and professional services is trusted to safeguard workers, reduce risk and build operational confidence. As a privately-held, family-owned company since 1953, we are committed to helping protect lives every day.

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