COVID-19 Small and Essential Businesses

UPDATE: December 17, 2021

In a move that comes as no surprise, the EEOC has updated its COVID-19 technical assistance to provide guidance on when COVID-19 may be considered a “disability” under the ADA, making specific reference to the DOJ/HHS guidance discussed in the original blog below. The EEOC’s technical assistance focuses “more broadly on COVID-19” beyond just “long COVID,” and does so “in the context of Title I of the ADA and section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act, which cover employment.” However, the EEOC’s guidance clearly echoes the DOH/HHS guidance and states that long COVID or sustained symptoms of COVID may be a “disability” under the law.

In many states, long COVID could also qualify as a disability under state laws. So, employers should be ready for more claims into the future, even when the pandemic (finally) ends – from employees who suffer symptoms of COVID as a chronic illness.

THE GUIDANCE

What is Long COVID and when is it a disability?

The EEOC has reemphasized that determining whether COVID may be considered a “disability” under the law is a fact-intensive question, requiring an analysis of the extent to which COVID’s symptoms, its long-term effects, or the manner in which it exacerbated the symptoms of another condition “substantially limit a major life activity,” as discussed in the original blog below. This means that an individual suffering, even intermittently, from certain symptoms relating to long COVID can be considered to be “disabled” under the law.

The EEOC provides several examples of these impairments, including: “brain fog” and difficulty remembering or concentrating; substantially limited respiratory function; chest pains; or intestinal pain.

Importantly, the EEOC distinguishes these “substantially limiting” conditions from less-serious symptoms, such as “congestion, sore throat, fever, headaches, and/or gastrointestinal discomfort, which resolve within several weeks,” which would not create a “disability.” But make no mistake: even these relatively insignificant symptoms may constitute a disability if they last or are expected to last for a significant period of time (i.e. more than six months).


Continue Reading UPDATE ON COVID CONSIDERATIONS: Long COVID Now an ADA Disability

In a one-line ruling on Monday, December 13, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the last of the legal challenges to the vaccine mandate for health care workers in New York. It also dismissed a challenge to a similar mandate for New York City Education Department employees, denied challenges to similar mandates for employees at Massachusetts General Hospital, and a challenge against a Maine mandate.

The New York plaintiffs, two groups of health care employees, sought an injunction against the mandate after the Second Circuit found it lawful. These Suits were brought in two courts, the Eastern and Northern Districts in New York, and ultimately were consolidated into one challenge. The argument was, by excluding religious exemptions, the New York mandate infringed on religious freedom. These New York plaintiffs claim that the vaccines offend certain religions, because they used fetal cell lines during testing. This theory has now been rejected by several courts.

This signals a trend by the high court, which is to honor mandates issued by individual state governments. This decision also clears the way for New York health care providers to confidently enforce the vaccine mandate, knowing that it has now been backed by the courts.


Continue Reading The Latest on Vaccines and Other COVID News

Where the Mandate Stands and Current Considerations for Contractors and Subcontractors

The federal contractor vaccine rollout continues to present thorny issues for federal contractors.  President Biden issued Executive Order (“E.O.”) 14042 in early September 2021, requiring federal contractor employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19.  The E.O. was followed by guidance issued by the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force (“Task Force”) in late September 2021, which has been frequently updated in the months since.

As described more fully in our prior post, under the mandate, implemented through the Task Force guidance incorporated into clauses issued by federal agencies, vaccines are mandatory for federal contractor employees working on covered contracts, those who perform duties in connection with a covered contract, and those working at the same workplace as covered employees. Contractors must also comply with masking and physical distancing requirements.  The mandate applies to subcontractors at any tier, and applies to contractors of all sizes — small, medium or large.  The E.O. and Task Force guidance immediately gave rise to many compliance questions and concerns over impact on contract or subcontract performance.  Legal challenges to the contractor vaccine requirement and actions by numerous states have further complicated an already difficult compliance landscape.


Continue Reading Uncertainty with the Federal Contractor Vaccine Mandate

Wednesday, September 22nd at 12:30pm ET

President Biden promised a 2021 “Summer of Joy” as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is brought under control. Instead, employers face continuing unpredictability in the face of a pandemic—and CDC guidance—that just keeps changing. With a pandemic that is not nearly behind us, what should an employer do now? Mandate

President Biden announced that his administration had reached its goal of 200 million vaccine shots administered during his first 100 days in office. Not stopping there, the President also made a special call to employers across the United States to use their unique resources to help their employees and others get vaccinated.

To encourage more

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

In 2020, California enacted several new laws affecting employers and their employment policies and procedures. While some of these laws are already in effect, others go into effect over the course of the next few months and years.

Laws That Took Effect in 2020

Workers’ Compensation COVID-19 Liability

By signing SB 1159 into law on September 17, 2020, California Governor Newsom codified his earlier issued executive order, which states that under certain circumstances, when an employee tests positive for COVID-19, there is a rebuttable presumption that the employee contracted the virus while at work and, therefore, said illness is covered by the employers’ workers’ compensation insurance coverage.
Continue Reading 2021 Employment Law Spotlight: California

Last year, several major employment laws were enacted in the State of Illinois, and specifically in the City of Chicago. Employers in Illinois and/or Chicago should be reminded of these laws for 2021. Here are just a few of the highlights:

  • The Illinois Human Rights Act (“IHRA”) was amended to cover “single-employee” employers and to require employers to report to the Illinois Department of Human Rights (“IDHR”) all adverse judgements and rulings relating to harassment and discrimination;
  • Employees covered by the Chicago Fair Workweek Ordinance now have a private right of action against employers for violations of the law;
  • Chicago Enacts COVID-19 Anti-Retaliation Measures; and
  • Class action lawsuits under the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (“BIPA”) are expected to continue to rise in 2021.


Continue Reading 2021 Employment Law Spotlight: Chicago and Illinois

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will be sworn in on January 20, 2021, signaling the official change in administration. Employers can certainly expect to see a shift in the direction of federal labor and employment laws. Already, Biden’s recent appointment of Marty Walsh, a union official, to Secretary of Labor, signifies a new era in NLRB activity and pro-employee and pro-union labor laws.  Further, the DOL and EEOC are bound to be more aggressive in undertaking many initiatives overlooked by the Trump Administration.

Federal labor and employment laws aside, New York employers should be reminded of new state laws for 2021.  Here are just a few of the highlights.
Continue Reading 2021 Employment Law Spotlight: New York

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?