Concerning the ongoing assault on mandatory arbitration agreements, we recently blogged about the passage of the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act (P.L. 117-89), colloquially the “MeToo” law. The MeToo law formally amended the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) to ban mandatory arbitration agreements for sexual assault and harassment claims. The MeToo law is “partially” retroactive: it bars mandatory arbitration of sexual harassment claims arising from conduct that occurred after the law went into effect, but not of claims where the alleged conduct occurred before the law’s passage.

On March 17, 2022, a mere two weeks after the MeToo Law’s passage, the U.S. House voted to advance the Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal, or FAIR Act (H.R. 963), a bill which could effectively void all pre-dispute mandatory arbitration agreements in employment, antitrust, consumer and civil rights disputes as well prohibit waivers of joint, class, or collective action in such matters. So from an employment perspective, the FAIR Act, if enacted, would go far beyond the MeToo law’s prohibition against arbitration of sexual harassment claims—it would bar mandatory arbitration of all employment-related claims.
Continue Reading The FAIR Act: A New Bill Banning Mandatory Arbitration Agreements

The start of a new year is the time for annual retrospectives, predictions, and promises to get back into the gym. Although we can’t help with that last one, we wanted to take this opportunity to offer our own analysis on the state of employment law in 2021, and to see if we can predict the hot-button issues for the rest of 2022.

COVID Concerns

For now, the headline issue remains COVID. 2021 had seemed to offer a glimmer of hope that the pandemic was coming to an end, only for those hopes to be dashed by the virulent Delta and Omicron variants. Big cities like New York implemented sweeping vaccine mandates for businesses and customers, while some states and even the federal government issued more targeted mandates for healthcare workers and contractors. Earlier this year, we saw the Supreme Court issue two seemingly divergent rulings on vaccine mandates, eliminating President Biden’s requirement for employers with 100+ employees to mandate vaccination or masking for those in the workplace. Meanwhile, a New York judge in Nassau County struck down the state’s masking requirement for public spaces (the order is currently stayed pending appeal).

Employers are left with a hodgepodge of COVID-related rules and regulations depending on where they and their workers reside. New laws and lawsuits are inevitable, but they only amplify the collective wish for the pandemic to be extinguished—here’s hoping.

Restrictive Covenants

The onset of COVID-19 ushered in the remote-work revolution. But this phenomenon, coupled with the so-called “great resignation” has led to employers confronting some novel legal issues. When seeking to enforce a restrictive covenant against a former worker, which law applies? The question was a simpler one in the Before Times—back when it was obvious that the worker lived and worked in the same state as the employer. But now, a vague restrictive covenant might no longer apply to an employee who made a big move.

Even after confronting choice-of-law issues, expect to see more arguments over what restrictions are now viable in a world where an employee can work remotely for a competitor across the country just as easily as your competitor down the block.

Of course, these are just the issues exacerbated by the pandemic. As ever, restrictive covenants remain a thorny issue and fodder for frequent legislation. For instance, Oregon has passed a law making any restrictive covenant lasting for more than a year to be unenforceable. Expect a lot of activity in this area throughout 2022.
Continue Reading Top 5 Employment Law Trends for 2022

Last week, the Supreme Court issued two opinions on COVID regulations impacting employers and workers across the country.

  • In the first, the Court stayed OSHA’s “vaccine or test” mandate for employers with 100 or more employees, finding that OSHA had overstepped its authority in promulgating the rule.
  • In the second, the Court allowed a rule implemented by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”), requiring healthcare facilities to ensure vaccination of their entire workforces, with no testing alternative.

The seemingly contradictory opinions have set the world of legal commentary aflame, but more importantly, have left employers asking: what do we do now?

Here’s our brief guide.

Blocking OSHA

On September 9, 2021, President Biden announced his plan to increase vaccination rates among Americans. Two months later, on November 5, OSHA issued its emergency temporary standard (“ETS”), mandating workforce vaccination for all employers with 100 or more employees across the country. In lieu of vaccination, an employee might submit to masking and testing, at their own expense. By OSHA’s estimate, 84.2 million employees, or roughly half the U.S. workforce, would be subject to its mandate. Across the country, legal challenges to the ETS were filed almost simultaneously with the rule.

Continue Reading Supreme Court Splits on Vaccine Mandates

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

Days after New York City announced its first positive case of the Omicron variant, Mayor Bill DeBlasio announced a sweeping upcoming vaccine mandate for virtually all private employers in the City. According to DeBlasio, this “preemptive strike,” set to go into effect on December 27, represents the City’s effort to get out ahead of the double threat posed by the new, highly contagious variant, and the potential increased transmission brought on by holiday travel and gatherings. However, City Hall’s hurried response has left City businesses reeling as they try to quickly adapt to unclear requirements.

What we know

First, DeBlasio announced the latest expansion to the “Key to NYC” program, which has already notably required proof of vaccination for anyone entering indoor bars and restaurants, fitness facilities, and entertainment and performance venues. Starting on December 14, children aged 5-11 will be required to show proof of at least one vaccine dose to enter those businesses. On December 27, New Yorkers aged 12 and older will be required to show proof of two vaccine doses (excepting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which only requires one).

More impactful is the unprecedented vaccine mandate for private-sector workers. The City will publish guidance on December 15, but for now, businesses are scrambling to anticipate their obligations before the mandate takes effect on December 27.

Continue Reading DeBlasio’s Parthian Shots: What Businesses Need to Know

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