COVID-19 Federal Government Response

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

As described in our client advisories of May 6, 2020 and February 11, 2021, the Department of Labor (the “DOL”) temporarily suspended the deadlines for employee benefit plan participants to exercise HIPAA special enrollment rights, elect and pay premiums for COBRA continuation coverage, file claims for benefits and appeal benefit claim denials (each, a “Qualifying Event”).

Under this relief, plan administrators were directed to disregard the period from March 1, 2020 until 60 days after the end of the federally declared national emergency for COVID-19 (the “Outbreak Period”) in determining such deadlines.  Because the statutes authorizing this relief impose a one-year limit on the period that may be disregarded in determining these deadlines, as described in our client advisory of February 11, 2021, the Outbreak Period was generally expected to end on February 28, 2021, absent further action from the DOL.

In a last-minute change of course, the DOL is now requiring the relief period instead to be the one-year period beginning on the normally applicable deadline, or 60 days after the end of the federally declared national emergency for COVID-19, if sooner.  As of this writing, the federally declared national emergency is still in place and the government has given no sign of when that declaration might end.  In other words, the relief period is to be measured on an event-by-event basis with respect to each participant and beneficiary instead of an overall deadline that applies to the plan as a whole.

This means that a participant who became eligible for COBRA on January 30, 2021, and who normally would have had until March 31, 2021 to elect COBRA, will have until March 31, 2022 to do so (assuming the national emergency does not end before January 30, 2022).  More significantly, a participant who experiences a Qualifying Event on or after March 1, 2021 (i.e., more than a year after the start of the Outbreak Period) will also be eligible for the relief.

In apparent recognition of its strained interpretation of its own original guidance regarding extension of certain plan deadlines, the DOL observed that plan disclosures issued during the pandemic may need to be reissued or amended if such disclosures did not accurately inform participants and beneficiaries of when actions are required.

Finally, the DOL observed that plan fiduciaries should make reasonable accommodations to prevent the loss or undue delay in payment of benefits and minimize the possibility of individuals losing benefits because of a failure to comply with pre-established time frames.  Specific examples of accommodations in the DOL guidance include affirmatively sending the affected participant or beneficiary a notice regarding the end of the relief period and, in the case of a group health plan, informing the affected participant or beneficiary of other coverage options, including through the Health Insurance Marketplace in the participant’s state.  It is unclear from this guidance whether the DOL expects plan fiduciaries to make other types of accommodations, such as extending deadlines beyond the statutory limits as facts and circumstances may warrant.

Based on the DOL’s latest guidance, plan administrators should be prepared to continue contending with the uncertainty and administrative difficulties created by the Outbreak Period relief until the President declares an end to the national emergency for COVID-19.

If you have any questions about the DOL’s latest interpretation of the Outbreak Period relief, or if you would like assistance in reviewing, preparing or revising communications to plan participants about the relief, please contact a member of our Employee Benefits Group.


Continue Reading DOL Issues New Guidance on the Duration of its COVID-19 Outbreak Period Relief

As described in our client advisory of May 6, 2020, the Department of Labor (the “DOL”) temporarily suspended the deadlines for employee benefit plan participants to exercise HIPAA special enrollment rights, elect and pay premiums for COBRA continuation coverage, file claims for benefits and appeal benefit claim denials.  This relief began on March 1, 2020 and, unless further extended by the DOL, will end on February 28, 2021 (the “Outbreak Period”).

If the Outbreak Period is not extended, then, effective March 1, 2021, the clock will begin ticking on deadlines that were suspended during the Outbreak Period.  For example, if a participant became eligible for COBRA continuation coverage on February 1, 2020, the 60-day period for electing such coverage, which in any other year would have ended on March 31, 2020, will now end on March 31, 2021 (i.e., the last day of the 60-day period which began on February 1, 2020 and includes (i) 29 days before the start of the Outbreak Period and (ii) 31 days after the end of the Outbreak Period).
Continue Reading DOL Outbreak Period Relief for Employee Benefit Plan Participants Scheduled to End Soon

Tuesday, March 2nd at 12:30pm ET

Employee Leave Laws: Managing the Intersection of FMLA, ADA, and COVID Leave

Many issues can arise when coordinating employee leaves of absence, especially when employee requests are related to medications (opioids or medical marijuana), mental health impairments, remote work, and the pandemic. We are talking about the nuanced problems

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?

On January 20, 2021, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. will be sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. Whichever side of the political spectrum you fall on, there can be no question that this is going to signal changes – and not all of them positive – for employers. For all

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…

On March 27, 2020, the President signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”) into law.  The CARES Act’s purpose is aimed at reducing the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and stimulating the economy with a $2.1 trillion dollar infusion.

Among other things, the CARES Act amends Section 7(a) of the Small Business Act creating the “Paycheck Protection Program (the “Program”). The Program broadens relief to a segment of small businesses other than those that would otherwise be ineligible to receive SBA 7(a) loans.  The Program will apply retroactively from February 15, 2020 until June 30, 2020. Below are some highlights:


Continue Reading CARES ACT HIGHLIGHTS: Paycheck Protection Program and FFCRA Amendments

On April 1, 2020, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) posted a temporary rule issuing regulations for implementing the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”), which became effective the same day. We reported on the DOL’s other recent efforts to flesh out the new law through its FAQ section, which included some much needed guidance

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”) is effective today, April 1. In honor of this undoubtedly daunting occasion for employers with less than 500 employees, we analyze the most significant provisions from the Department of Labor’s updated FAQs, which fill in gaping holes in the legislation that left employers (and counsel) puzzled.  For employers with fewer than 50 employees, we also examine recent DOL guidance on the “small business exemption” and identify the ways in which employers can qualify for this exemption.


Continue Reading Updated DOL Guidance – What Employers Need To Know On The First Day Of The FFCRA