In September, as the Delta variant was sweeping the nation, President Biden announced a comprehensive national strategy to get more Americans vaccinated and to set the path out of the pandemic. As part of this plan, the President announced that OSHA would be issuing regulations requiring any employer with 100 or more employees to ensure that workers are vaccinated.

In addition, the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) and President Biden’s Safer Federal Workforce Task Force (SFWTF) have issued their own rules requiring the vaccination of healthcare workers and federal contractors, which we have covered previously here and here. Those employers covered by the CMS and SFWTF rules do not have to comply with the new OSHA mandate.

Today, OSHA promulgated this rule, via an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), covering employers with 100 or more employees. OSHA estimates this will cover approximately 2/3 of all workers in the United States.


Continue Reading The Federal COVID Vaccine Rule is Here

Updated October 21, 2021.

Employers implementing mandatory COVID-19 vaccination programs are no doubt starting to feel the pressure resulting from an influx of religious and disability accommodation requests. In all the internal commotion (and resulting strain on human resources departments), employers must remember that failing to implement an adequate process for evaluating and responding to accommodation requests can have real legal consequences.

An action just filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts illustrates just this point. See, Together Employees et al. v. Mass General Brigham Inc., case number 1:21-cv-11686. Mass General, the hospital network employer in that case, implemented a mandatory vaccination program, announcing that employees who failed to receive the vaccination would be placed on unpaid leave and, ultimately, could be terminated. The hospital network, as the EEOC recommends, invited employees to apply for medical and/or religious exemptions.

According to the complaint, the lawsuit arises from the hospital’s decision to deny the exemption requests of 229 employees. The plaintiff Together Employees, an unincorporated association of the impacted employees, seeks injunctive relief, claiming that the hospital did not really analyze their requests, and engaged in a wholesale denial of accommodations without any showing of undue hardship by Mass General. The employees allege that the hospital network’s accommodations process was designed to hinder employees from adequately supporting their requests for an accommodation, resulting in denials for almost all who applied. Among other issues with the process, the employees claim that the forms did not give them space to explain the need for the exemption, or allow them to attach supporting documentation.


Continue Reading The Accommodation Process Requires More Than Lip Service

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the serious threat posed by unchecked airborne infectious diseases, and has prompted New York to pass the Health and Essential Rights Act (aka the “HERO Act”), which serves to establish health and safety protocols for workers across the state. Like we said in our coverage back in June, the mandatory safety standards set forth by the act apply to all airborne diseases, not just COVID-19, and as such are intended to remain a permanent feature of the employee safety measures established by virtually all private employers across the state.

As with the introduction of any new piece of legislation, questions remained even after the law came into effect. At the end of September, the Department of Labor issued an updated FAQ to address lingering and emergent issues with Section 1 of the Act, which relates to the implementation of safety plans.

Until at least October 31, COVID-19 continues to be classified as a “highly contagious communicable disease that presents a serious risk of harm to the public health” under the HERO Act.

That means that before October 31, private employers must:

  1. Draft a plan that complies with DOL guidance on the HERO Act;
  2. Put that plan into effect; and
  3. Give employees (and contractors!) a verbal review of the plan.


Continue Reading Show Me a HERO: Department of Labor Clarifies New York’s HERO Act

On September 9, 2021, President Biden issued Executive Order 14042, requiring federal contractors to be vaccinated against COVID-19. On September 24, 2021, the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force issued its 14-page guidance on the order, detailing the new obligations and responding to some frequently asked questions. These obligations and FAQs will be incorporated into federal government contracts and subcontracts and require vaccination of covered employees by December 8. Kelley Drye’s government contracts group prepared a comprehensive summary of the recent federal contractor and subcontractor vaccine mandate, which has broad implications for many companies within the federal government supply chain. For answers to any questions specific to your business and legal obligations, contact Kelley Drye & Warren LLP.

Continue Reading Top 10 Takeaways from Federal Contractor and Subcontractor Vaccine Mandate

Do you have 100 or more employees? Are you a federal government contractor? A healthcare provider? A large entertainment venue? If the answer to any of these questions is yes—and as you’ve already probably heard—President Biden has instructed the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) to exercise its rulemaking authority to require all such employers to either mandate COVID-19 vaccination or to require weekly COVID-19 testing. You should review your current COVID-19 policies and President Biden’s COVID-19 Action Plan, particularly the new executive orders and mandates announced this past week, which cover about 100 million Americans, or two-thirds of the U.S. workforce.

For the moment, covered employers have to sit tight: Biden’s announcement last week was simply that OSHA will issue the new vaccination rule “in the coming weeks.” We will continue to update this blog on the many complicated issues arising from the anticipated OSHA rules, including how to comply with the rule when various Republican state governors and right-leaning interest groups have already promised litigation to challenge the rule from the moment the rule is implemented.

For now, however, here are the key takeaways for employers:

  • Employers (100+ Employees): OSHA is developing a rule that will require all employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated or to require any workers who remain unvaccinated to produce a negative test result on at least a weekly basis before coming to work. Given the practical challenges with implementing weekly testing, many employers may simply mandate vaccination to comply with this new rule—and many already have. What happens if they don’t? This requirement is to carry substantial fines to be enforced by OSHA. In addition to the mandate, OSHA is developing a rule that will require employers with 100+ employees to provide PTO for the time it takes workers to get vaccinated and to recover.  
  • Federal Workers & Contractors: The President also signed an Executive Order (EO) to require all federal executive branch workers and contractors that do business with the federal government to be vaccinated. This EO eliminates the exception to the July vaccination mandate for federal employees and contractors that allowed them to opt out if they wore masks, socially distanced, and were tested for COVID-19 at least weekly. 


Continue Reading Vaccinating the Unvaccinated: Employers Take Heed

What to expect from the projected increase in vaccine requirements, restrictions, and lawsuits in the months ahead.

With the highly transmissible Delta variant surging, and vaccination rates stagnating, employers are facing new pressures to reinstate mask mandates for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, and encourage COVID-19 vaccines through workplace mandates.

On August 23, 2021, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) fully approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for use in those age 16 and older. This upgrade to full approval from “emergency use” status is predicted to lead to a rise in vaccine requirements from employers, schools, and local governments. Health officials are also hopeful that the approval will lead to higher vaccination rates. Note that the Pfizer vaccine is only one of  three COVID-19 vaccines to receive full approval. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines remain in emergency use status only.

Even under the FDA’s prior emergency use approval, major companies – including Google, Facebook, BlackRock, and Morgan Stanley – initiated policies insisting that workers get vaccinated before returning to the office. Meanwhile, California and New York City became the first state and major city, respectively, to require public workers to be vaccinated. Illinois very recently joined the returning wave of COVID-19 related restrictions by enacting another statewide mask mandate and requiring all teachers and healthcare workers be vaccinated or subject to weekly testing. The Biden administration also requires all federal workers to attest to being vaccinated or face strict testing protocols.
Continue Reading The New Employee Status: Vaccinated or Unvaccinated

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

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?

It seems that at every turn, COVID-19 is keeping employers from catching their breath. We’ve discussed on this blog how employers should navigate having employees work from home, reopening and remaining compliant with the law and CDC guidelines, mask and vaccine mandates, and what to do when an employee tests positive for the virus. Now another issue confronts employers: how to best accommodate employees who are suffering from COVID symptoms months after having been infected with the virus—long COVID.

On July 26, 2021, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division (DOJ) jointly published guidance on whether long COVID may qualify as a disability subject to the nondiscrimination requirements of the ADA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act. They concluded that certain cases it does.
Continue Reading COVID CONSIDERATIONS: Long COVID Now a Disability

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