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 vaccinations? Require proof of vaccination? Return full-time to the office? Postpone reopening plans?

Our past webinars addressed the basics of navigating the pandemic: how and whether to work remotely, what to do when an employee tests positive, how to comply with applicable law and CDC guidelines, and many other issues.  We invite you to join the Kelley Drye L&E team on September 22, 2021 for a refresh on the basics and—most importantly—to mark a clear path forward for employers amid the moving targets of the pandemic.

This program is appropriate for in-house counsel, management, and HR professionals.

Click here to register.

 

On August 24, 2021, Kathy Hochul was sworn in as the first female governor of New York, assuming office in the wake of the resignation of Andrew Cuomo. The former Governor, a once-powerhouse politician with a decade in the executive office, departed Albany in disgrace.

Cuomo did not leave office alone—at least four former senior aides and state officials have also resigned, as well as several prominent supporters who found themselves caught up in the scandal created by his conduct. That number does not include those who left their positions due to the harassment they allege to have faced. Hochul must now rebuild from the rubble left behind by her predecessor, as the leadership team in the executive branch, as well as those of prominent organizations throughout New York, have been left in disarray.

The allegations against Cuomo are voluminous, and range in severity from his usage of “pet names” to his inappropriate touching of female subordinates. The report concluded that beyond the Governor himself, “the Executive Chamber’s culture” was “filled with fear and intimidation, while at the same time normalize[ed] the Governor’s frequent flirtations and gender-based comments[.]”

Cuomo’s downfall was shocking on one level, as he was long seen (or wanted to be seen) as a champion of women’s rights. In fact, on August 12, 2019, he signed groundbreaking legislation establishing some of the strongest anti-harassment legislation in the country. However, it may not have shocked many who knew him, as the report commissioned by Attorney General Letitia James’ detailed years of questionable behavior and cover-ups by those around Cuomo. Continue Reading Lessons From a Former Governor

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?

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 COVID CONSIDERATIONS: Long COVID Now a Disability

As PRIDE month concludes, we look back at a historic year for the rights of LGBTQ+ employees, and ahead for what this means for employers as they manage their workforce.

Looking back, it was June 2020 when the Supreme Court held that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and transgender status constitutes unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. We’ve discussed the landmark Bostock v. Clayton County decision in-depth before. Fast forward, one year later on Bostock’s first anniversary, the EEOC issued a slate of new resources to help employers comply with new LGBTQ+ protections.

According to Catalyst.org, members of the LGBTQ+ community still face high rates of discrimination in the workplace. At least 20 percent of LGBTQ+ employees report being discriminated against when applying for jobs and 52 percent report having been subjected to lesbian or gay jokes in the workplace.

Discrimination is bad for business, as it impacts employee retention. Nearly half of LGBTQ+ workers in the United States are closeted at work with 10 percent having left a job because of an intolerant environment. Meanwhile, 25 percent reported staying in a job because of an inclusive culture.

As discrimination in the workplace persists, so too do related lawsuits. In fact, before we were able to finalize this short blog, two new cases hit the press. One involved a former Boeing contractor’s suit against a staffing agency claiming she was fired for being a transgender woman. The other involved a former Iowa Democratic official’s suit against the state’s prior Republican governor alleging the governor cut his salary and urged him to resign because he was gay. Without commenting on those claims, no employer wants to be in that headline.

So how do you avoid being in the headlines? Start by knowing the law. Here’s what you need to know about the new EEOC guidance: Continue Reading Pride at Work: What Employers Need to Know about LGBTQ+ Rights

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

Original post on June 1, 2021 (“Making the Workplace a Safer Place: A Job for New York’s HERO Act”)

Key takeaways for New York employers from the NY HERO Act, as amended:

  • The NYS DOL must publish a model safety standard by July 5, 2021.
  • 30 days thereafter, New York employers must either adopt the model standard or create their own health and safety plan to prevent occupational exposure to airborne infectious diseases, which meets or exceeds the minimum requirements established by the NYS DOL.
  • Every employer must provide its prevention plan to its employees, within 30 days after adoption of the plan, within 15 days after reopening after a period of closure due to airborne infectious disease, and to any newly hired employee, upon hiring the new employee.
  • Employers must permit employees to establish joint employer-employee workplace safety committees, beginning on November 1, 2021.

Continue Reading New York Gives Employers More Time to Be a HERO

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