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U.S. employers have known for a while that they can require their employees to get an FDA-approved Covid-19 vaccine. As recently as a couple of months ago, however, most employers weren’t doing that, with a few exceptions in healthcare and on Wall Street that were either celebrated or notorious, depending on your view.

The balance has clearly shifted now.

One survey in February 2021 found that almost 80% of employers chose not to mandate vaccination because their employees were personally opposed to it. As one of our clients put it: “If we mandated, half our workforce would quit.” So the initial stance taken by most employers was essentially an employee relations choice, and employers “strongly encouraged,” but didn’t require, vaccination.

It looks like months of “strong encouragement” didn’t move the needle one way or the other. Our unscientific guess (but one generated by endless discussions with our clients) is that employees who were personally inclined to get vaccinated with or without a mandate got vaccinated, and those who were opposed didn’t—which is to say that, arguably, few were “encouraged” to do anything they weren’t going to do anyway. Result: only about 50% of the US population has been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
Continue Reading Vaccination: To Mandate or Not to Mandate?

Sending a clear message to employers and employees alike on the prickly subject of mandatory vaccination programs, Texas federal Judge Lynn N. Hughes just dismissed outright a lawsuit brought by 117 employees of a Houston hospital, challenging their terminations for refusal to be vaccinated. The court rejected the employees’ wrongful termination claims under Texas state law as well as their arguments that the Hospital’s policy violated federal law.

It’s also not just the result, but the strong language of the decision, which should give employers comfort that a mandatory vaccination program is lawful.

Background

On April 1, 2021, the Houston Methodist Hospital announced a policy requiring all employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 at the Hospital’s expense by June 7, 2021. As that date approached, Plaintiff Jennifer Bridges and 116 other Hospital employees who had refused that vaccine, filed suit in the Southern District of Texas to block the Hospital’s vaccination requirement and their terminations, arguing that the Hospital’s mandatory vaccination program was unlawful.

Plaintiffs argued that the vaccination program constituted wrongful termination under Texas law and that the injection requirement also violated public policy. The Court rejected these arguments because the Plaintiffs did not establish the essential elements of the wrongful termination claim and because Texas does not recognize a public policy exception to an at-will employment relationship. Among the more absurd arguments advanced by the plaintiffs were that under the Hospital employees were being treated as participants in a human trial in violation of the Nuremburg Code.
Continue Reading Judge Holds that a Hospital can Fire Employees Who Refuse the Vaccine

On January 21, 2021, President Biden enacted the Executive Order “Protecting Worker Health and Safety” which tasked OSHA with developing safety measures to help protect workers as the nation continued its post-pandemic reopening. On June 10, 2021, in response to that direction, OSHA issued an emergency temporary standard (“ETS”) focused on healthcare settings where workers are most likely to have contact with individuals infected by the virus.

Below are some of the salient points of the ETS:
Continue Reading OSHA’s Emergency Temporary Standard for Healthcare

On Friday March 12, 2021, Governor Cuomo signed into law legislation which requires that beginning March 12, 2021, all New York employers must provide up to four hours of paid leave per COVID-19 vaccine injection. Below are the salient features of the new law:

Who is covered?

All employees irrespective of employer size or industry.

What amount of leave are employees entitled to?

Up to four hours off per vaccine injection, paid at the employee’s “regular rate of pay.”

The law does not specifically address how much time an employee is entitled to if the vaccine requires two injections, but the law is drafted as permitting leave “per vaccine injection,” thus employees who receive a two shot vaccination could be entitled up to eight hours of paid leave.

When does the law expire?
Continue Reading NY Employees Granted Up to Four Hours of Excused Leave Per Vaccine Injection

On the heels of the FDA’s approval of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, the EEOC updated its Technical Assistance Q & A to help employers navigate the latest pandemic related challenges. The EEOC guidance can be found here.

Below are highlights of the EEOC’s guidance, and our practical advice for employers who are considering rolling out a mandatory vaccination program for their employees.

Before jumping on the mandatory vaccination bandwagon, employers should consider these important questions:

  • Does your company need a mandatory vaccination program? Should you leave it to your employees to make their own decisions?
  • If you decide to implement a mandatory vaccination program, how will you announce it, how will you roll it out, and what is the timing? Have you factored in that vaccines may not be available to all employees at the same time?
  • If you decide to implement a mandatory vaccination program, how will you handle requests for exemptions? What will you do with employees who refuse to be vaccinated?
  • What are the pitfalls of a mandatory vaccination program?

Let’s break this down further.

Can employers mandate that employees receive a COVID-19 vaccine?

The answer is yes.

The EEOC’s updated guidance now addresses issues regarding “mandatory vaccinations” and makes clear that employers can mandate that employees get the COVID-19 vaccination. The justification for mandating vaccination, especially during the pandemic, is based on the premise that unvaccinated employees present a “direct threat” to others in the workplace. (K.5.).

Many employers are already stating that once the vaccine is widely available they may mandate a vaccine before employees can return to the office. However, as will be discussed below, even if a mandatory policy is enacted, employees may nonetheless be entitled to exemptions on the basis of disability or religious accommodation.

Do employers need a mandatory program?

The answer depends on your business.

If you run a business where your employees can safely work remotely or socially distance, you may not need it right away. On the other hand, if you run a retail business, school, a restaurant, or any similar business where employees circulate among each other or deal with the public, a mandatory vaccination program may beneficial to your operation. Many retail and customer facing industries believe that it will be a good advertisement if they can say that their employees are all vaccinated.

Whatever the approach, employers should not jump in without weighing the costs and benefits. Things to consider include administrative costs, challenges to implementing a mandatory program, such as training and legal compliance.

How will you roll it out and when?

Here again, messaging and timing must be carefully considered.  Right now, vaccines are only available to frontline healthcare workers. Thus, if your business does not fall into that category, you will need to wait until vaccines are available to your workforce to institute a mandatory program. Even then, you may have to allow for a vaccine rollout over time, and only make the mandate applicable to those employees who are eligible to receive a vaccine.

In the early months of 2021, practical questions about fairness may arise. For example, if an employee wishes to comply but a vaccine is not available to them, should they be excluded from the workplace? Employers adopting a mandatory program will likely face, and should be prepared to handle a number of similar questions.

Next let’s look at the issues surrounding employees receiving the vaccination.
Continue Reading The EEOC Confirms You CAN Mandate a Vaccine, But SHOULD You?

As employers are well aware by now, New York enacted statewide paid sick leave requirements for employers, which took effect on September 30, 2020. We provided an overview of requirements for the new law here. Under the law, New York employers must provide all employees with sick leave and grant employees the ability to use accrued sick time starting January 1, 2021. The amount of sick leave an employer must provide under the law varies depending on an employer’s size and net income.

Recently, New York State issued much anticipated guidance and in a seven page FAQ document regarding the State’s new paid sick leave law. That guidance can be found here.

Although the guidance doesn’t answer every single question employers will have, the FAQs provide clarification as to Definitions, Accruals, Permitted Uses, Who is Eligible, Leave Increments, Rate of Pay, Alternative Accrual System, and Collective Bargaining Agreement and Other Leave Laws, Employee Rights & Protections, and Miscellaneous Questions.

We have excerpted  below a few key FAQs for employers to consider as they continue to work through COVID-19 and employers consider necessary revisions to their leave policies:

If employers choose an accrual based method for calculating leave under the NYPSL, they should be aware that out of state telework may impact an employee’s entitlement. The FAQs suggest that employees are only eligible to accrue sick leave based on hours worked while physically within the state of New York:

DOES AN EMPLOYER HAVE TO PROVIDE SICK LEAVE TO EMPLOYEES WHO TELECOMMUTE OUTSIDE OF NEW YORK STATE?

Employees who telecommute are covered by the law only for the hours when they are physically working in New York State, even if the employer is physically located outside New York State.

With many employees are already working from home, it is also important to note that, under the new law employers cannot require employees to telecommute in lieu of taking sick leave:
Continue Reading State Issues Guidance for NY Paid Sick Leave Law

In an August 13 decision the National Labor Relations Board upheld an administrative law judge’s decision denying William Beaumont Hospital’s motion for an in-person hearing for an unfair labor practice charge. The charge was brought by the Michigan Nurses Association  alleging “numerous Section 8(a)(3) and (1) violations during an organizing campaign.” The Board shot down the Hospital’s “list of sundry problems” which could potentially occur during a video hearing as speculative and premature, and found that in light of the Michigan Nurses Association’s claims of anti-union tactics the judge’s decision that the pandemic constituted “compelling circumstances” warranting a remote hearing was not an abuse of discretion. The decision can be found here.

Although the Board’s decision may usher in more frequent remote hearings in the future, it’s not all bad. The same day as the Board’s decision in William Beaumont Hospital, the NLRB’s Division of Advice published 5 new advisory memos addressing COVID-19 related questions posed by different Regional Offices. In each case, the Division applied established law and recommended dismissal. Although, each advisory memo was written in response to an individual unfair labor practice charge and the Division’s conclusions are binding only as to the parties involved in that particular case, they provide some insight as to how similar cases might be handled and make it clear  that COVID-19 pandemic or not – the same rules apply.


Continue Reading NLRB Approves Video Hearing For Nurses Against Hospital’s Opposition – But It’s Not All Bad…

Today the EEOC updated its Technical Assistance Questions and Answers (Q&A), “What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws.”

Among the updates, the EEOC  provides Q&A guidance regarding: requests for accommodation (Q&A D.13, G.7); pandemic-related harassment in the context of telework (Q&A E.4); return to work guidance (Q&A G.6, G.7); and other questions related to age discrimination (Q&A H.1), pregnancy discrimination (Q&A J.1), and sex discrimination involving employees with caretaking or family responsibilities (Q&A I.1).

The EEOC also touches on an issue that all employers will undoubtedly face as employees return to work, namely, whether an accommodation is required for an employee who is not disabled, but whose family member may be at high risk for contracting COVID-19 due to an underlying condition. The EEOC’s June 11 Q&A D.13 states:


Continue Reading EEOC Updates COVID-19 Technical Assistance Publication with Q&A

The Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) has issued new guidance which will dictate how employers can resume business and safely start the “return to work” process. The overall focus of the guidance, which purports to “change the way people work,” is that employers should implement systems and procedures that can prevent and reduce transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace.

First, it must be understood that the guidance is not law, and thus employers are not mandated to do anything the CDC recommends.  CDC guidance, however, may well become a rallying cry for employees who want job accommodations and greater leeway in the workplace including the flexibility to work from home or the use of revised work schedules.  Employers will have to balance those requests with the needs of their business.


Continue Reading CDC Guidance: How Do You Comply and Keep Your Business Functioning?

Employers, as you plan for a safe return to work, there are several critical protocols and practices to consider. Below you will find a Return to Work (RTW) Checklist, created by the Kelley Drye Labor and Employment team, to help you navigate getting back to work effectively. If you have any questions or need more information, please contact Barbara Hoey and Mark Konkel.

Continue Reading Employer’s Return to Work Checklist: Practices and Policies