Chicago’s New Year Vaccine Requirements

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise throughout the state of Illinois, operators of indoor dining establishments, gyms, and entertainment venues where food and drinks are being served in the City of Chicago face a series of new requirements that necessitate quick action. Beginning January 3, 2022, Public Health Order 2021-2 will require all individuals over the age of 5, show proof of full vaccination to dine indoors, workout, and patronize entertainment venues. For purposes of the Public Health Order, fully vaccinated is the more restrictive of either the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance or Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) posted guidelines. For the time being, both the CDC and CDPH guidelines are aligned, defining fully vaccinated as two weeks after receiving the second dose in a two dose vaccination series and one week after receiving a single dose in a single dose vaccination series.  It remains to be seen if, or when, the recommended-but-not-required boosters will be added to that definition. 

Employers, of course, must quickly figure out how to implement measures to comply with this Order—both with respect to customers/guests as well as with employees given that the Order does not have a minimum employee threshold like the Fed OSHA ETS.  This means that even small, independently owned restaurants and bars will be expected to comply even if they were not covered by the ETS which kicked in only at 100 employees. 

Who is covered? 

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Employment Law Implications of the OSHA ETS: Medical and Religious Accommodation Requests

Published in the Federal Register on November 5, 2021, the Federal OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard on Vaccination and Testing (“ETS”) first major compliance deadline was December 6, 2021. However, as a result of a stay entered by the 5th Circuit, and the 6th Circuit’s refusal to grant the Biden Administration’s petition to move up the briefing schedule, OSHA cannot begin enforcing, and has ceased all action, including answering employer questions about, the standard. (For continued updates on the status of the ETS review our Employer Defense Report and OSHA Defense Report.) Accommodation,Sign,With,Sky,BackgroundAs outlined in greater detail in a previous blog, the ETS generally requires employers with 100 or more employees to: develop employer policies on vaccination; provide paid time off for vaccination and to recover from vaccination; require employees to provide proof of full vaccination or submit to weekly testing; require unvaccinated workers to wear a face covering; remove COVID-19 positive cases from the workplace; and inform employees about the requirements of the ETS, COVID-19 vaccine efficacy and safety, prohibited retaliation, and the criminal penalties associated with knowingly supplying false statements or documentation. Given the robust requirements of the ETS, employers would be well advised to put in place mechanisms for compliance with the ETS in the event the stay is lifted, particularly if there is no delay in compliance deadlines. One important consideration is how to handle ETS-related medical and religious accommodation requests.

1. Background

Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) requires employers to provide a reasonable accommodation, so long as it does not impose an “undue hardship,” to qualified employees who have a disability. A person with a disability has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; has a record of such impairment; or is regarded as having such impairment. A qualified employee or applicant with a disability is a person who, with or without a reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the job. If an employee or applicant with a disability requests a reasonable accommodation, employers must engage in an interactive process. In doing so, EEO guidance permits employers to consider whether complications created by the COVID-19 pandemic create a “significant difficulty” in acquiring or providing certain accommodations. For example, it may be more difficult for an employer to provide an employee requesting an accommodation with a temporary re-assignment.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of religion. Employers are required to provide a reasonable accommodation to employees with a “sincerely held” religious belief unless doing so would cause more than a minimal burden. In Draper v. U.S. Pipe & Foundry Co., the court held Continue reading

New EEOC Guidance on Religious Exemptions / Accommodations

By Conn Maciel Carey LLP’s COVID-19 Task Force

Earlier this week, the EEOC finally updated its guidance on Title VII and Religious Objections to COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates, which will impact how employers will implement their various vaccination, testing, and masking requirements.

US law has long-recognized an exemption from mandatory work policies (including vaccine-mandates) based on sincerely held religious beliefs, pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (and equivalent state statutes). For employers, evaluating religious exemption requests can be tricky (certainly trickier than requests for medical/disability-based exemptions), as there is often no readily verifiable evidence to help ascertain whether an employee’s religious objection to the work policy is a sincerely held religious belief (or even a religious belief at all). Indeed, although it is permissible to attempt to obtain a supporting statement from a religious leader or another member of their community who is familiar with the employee’s belief system, and employee is not required to provide such a statement, as they may not be affiliated with an organized religion. Furthermore, as an end-around to COVID-19 vaccine-mandates, many employees nationwide are attempting to seek a religious exemption when their actual objections are really based in political, ethical, or personal beliefs.

In response to requests from the regulated community, the EEOC has attempted to provide more clarity so that employers can have more confidence in implementing their accommodations process, and in many instances, to push back on suspect claims by employees of the need for a religious exemption. The guidance does offer some useful tools for employers, but unfortunately, it is not as helpful as we had hoped it might be.

The theme of the EEOC’s updated guidance is that employers must make an individualized evaluation of each employee’s request for a religious accommodation. The EEOC renewed Continue reading

California Adds Increased Meal/Rest Period and Workplace Safety Protections for Warehouse Employees Subject to Production Quotas

On September 22, 2021, California became even more labor friendly when Governor Newsom signed AB 701 which adds additional requirements to California’s existing meal and rest breaks rules for non-exempt warehouse employees. Effective January 1, 2022, employers covered by AB 701 must disclose all quotas to warehouse employees that the employee may be subject to.  Employers are subject to a rebuttable presumption of retaliation against employees who are subject to an adverse employment action within 90 days of engaging in protected activity under AB 701.  Employers must make the disclosure to each employee upon hire or within 30 days of the law going into effect.

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The ADA is Turning The Big 3-1, but There is Still Little Guidance on Long COVID and Title I of the ADA

Happy anniversary to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which turns thirty-one this year. To celebrate its anniversary President Biden is “bringing agencies together to make sure Americans with long COVID, who have a disability, have access to the rights and resources that are due under the disability law.” According to President Biden, this “includes accommodations and services in the workplace, in school, and our health care system so they can live their lives in dignity and get the support they need as they continue to navigate these challenges.” The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) jointly with the Department of Justice (DOJ), as well as the departments of Education and Laborshutterstock_212097706 (1), have released guidance explaining that long COVID can be a disability under various federal civil rights laws, including the ADA.

“Long COVID.” “Long-haul COVID.” “Post-acute COVID-19.” “Long-term effects of COVID.” “Chronic COVID.” For clarity, all of these terms refer to new or ongoing symptoms experienced by some people after first being infected with COVID-19 and they are generally referred to as COVID long-haulers. Approximately 30% of COVID positive patients are COVID long-haulers and reported continued symptoms as long as nine months after their initial confirmed positive, according to a study published in JAMA Network Open in February. According to the CDC, symptoms may occur regardless of the severity of the COVID illness and include difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, fatigue, sleeping problems, fevers, gastrointestinal issues, anxiety and depression, dizziness on standing, and “brain fog.” Some people who had severe COVID-illness may experience multiorgan effects or autoimmune conditions over a longer time with symptoms lasting weeks or months after COVID-19 illness. Finally, some who were hospitalized as a result of their COVID illness may suffer health effects during their recovery like severe weakness and exhaustion.

The guidance issued by HHS and DOJ addresses Continue reading

Illinois Senate Bill 1480 Takes A Direct Aim at Ensuring Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Illinois Workplaces

policies and proceduresSenate Bill 1480 (SB 1480) signed by Governor J.B. Pritzker on March 23 is the latest in a long list of laws that have taken effect in Illinois aimed at ensuring diverse candidates have an equal opportunity in hiring, tenure or terms, and privileges and conditions of employment. In July 2014 Illinois “banned the box” when then Governor Pat Quinn signed the Job Opportunities for Qualified Applicants Act. The legislation prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from asking applicants about their criminal record until the employer has determined the applicant is qualified for the position and has selected the applicant for an interview and notified the applicant or if there is no interview made a conditional offer of employment. In July 2019 Governor Pritzker signed the Equal Pay Act Salary History Ban, which prohibits all employers in the state of Illinois from asking applicants about their current rate of pay or any benefits they are eligible to receive. Now, SB 1480 requires employers to provide notice in writing after an employer has made a preliminary decision to not extend the applicant a job offer because of their conviction record, obtain an Equal Pay certificate, and the Illinois Secretary of State will begin publishing employers EEO-1 data.

Amendment to the Illinois Human Rights Act

Senate Bill 1480 amends the Illinois Human Rights Act such that employers must provide written notice to applicants after making a preliminary decision not to offer employment to the applicant because of their conviction record. Under the amendment, unless otherwise authorized by law, it is a civil rights violation for an employer to use conviction records in employment related decisions, including hiring, promotion, renewal of employment, selection for training or apprenticeship, discharge, discipline, tenure or terms, and privileges or conditions of employment unless: Continue reading

Things Employers Should Consider as the $15 per hour Minimum Wage Gains Traction

The $15 per hour minimum wage is not a new idea, although a minimum wage increase under the Fair Labor Standards Act has garnered new attention in recent months. Raising the minimum wage was one of President Biden’s campaign promises and both the House and the Senate have re-introduced legislation to raise the federal minimum wage. Some states, like California, Connecticut, Illinois, and New York are already on track to have a $15 per hour minimum wage by 2025. But what does all this mean for employers? According to a recent Congressional Budget Office study increasing the federal minimum wage would raise the wages of at least 17 million Americans. Therefore, employers should begin thinking about how the progressive increase of the minimum wage will impact their resources.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) dictates the federal minimum wage, rules surrounding overtime pay and hours worked, and recordkeeping requirements. Two types of employers are covered under the FLSA: enterprises and individuals. Enterprises have at least two employees and are (1) those that have an annual dollar volume of sales or business done of at least $500,000 or (2) hospitals and businesses providing medical or nursing care for residents, schools, and preschools, and government agencies. Individuals are employers whose employees are engaged in work that regularly involves interstate commerce. Executive, administrative, and professional employees (including teachers and academic administrative personnel in elementary and secondary schools) are FLSA minimum wage and overtime exempt provided they are paid at not less than $684 per week on a salary basis. These salary requirements do not apply to outside sales employees, teachers, and employees practicing law or medicine. This exception is commonly referred to as the white collar exception. Other minimum wage and overtime exemptions include creative professionals, computer employees, and highly compensated individuals.

If the $15 per hour minimum wage legislation passes, employers may consider making hourly employees who would otherwise be FLSA exempt salaried. There are several benefits to be gained if those employees were correctly classified as minimum wage and overtime exempt. First, predictable wages. Hourly employees who work more than 40 hours per week are entitled to 1.5 times their regular rate of pay for each additional hour worked. If the $15 per hour minimum wage passes, that would be an overtime rate of pay of $22.50 per hour. Salaried white collar employees are not subject to the same overtime pay. Second, the elimination of recordkeeping. Employers must keep a record of all hours worked by their hourly employees. For about the past year, many white collar employees have tele-worked due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Tele-work has made it challenging for employers to keep track of employee hours worked. Whereas before an employee may have used a daily timeclock located inside the office, now employers have had to come up with creative solutions to comply with the FLSA recordkeeping requirement. With many companies predicting that even after the pandemic tele-work may still be available at least one day a week for all white collar employees, correctly classifying white collar employees as exempt by making them salaried eliminates the need to keep track of employees’ working hours.

Employers who do consider changing their white collar employees from hourly to salaried should exercise caution. The U.S. Wage and Hour Division has outlined specific tests for every exempt employee category and employers do not want to run the risk of misclassifying employees as it could result in a lawsuit. Furthermore, employers should make sure that the decision is made equitably so as not to run afoul of other labor and employment laws like Title VII and The Americans with Disabilities Act. Ultimately, the decision of whether to make an otherwise FLSA exempt hourly employee salaried should take into account the employer’s resources and be made with the assistance of legal counsel.

New COVID-Related State Leave Laws Fill The Void Left By Federal Paid Leave Laws

As the U.S. is entering the third wave of COVID-19 as virus cases continue to rise nationwide, employers should not only be aware of their obligations under the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, but also recent state laws such as California’s COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave and New York State’s COVID-19 Leave Law.

As we have discussed in a prior blog post, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) requires private employers with 500 or fewer employees to provide paid sick leave generally when an employee is unable to work because the employee is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or has a bona fide need to care for a child whose school or child care provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19. 

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What You Should Know About COVID-19, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act

As the U.S. enters month seven of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers continue to grapple with how to keep employees safe without violating the rights of employees protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) has issued guidance to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace encouraging employers to: (1) actively encourage sick employees to stay home; (2) conduct daily in person health checks such as temperature and symptom screenings; and (3) ensure that workers are able to follow social distancing guidelines as much as practicable and encouraging employees to wear face masks where social distancing is not possible. Employers should remain vigilant against enacting policies meant to keep employees safe but have a disparate impact on employees in a protected class.

The Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against job applicants and/or employees with disabilities. If a job applicant or employee has a disability and requests an accommodation, employers must engage in an interactive process and are required to provide a reasonable accommodation to the extent it does not cause the employer undue hardship.

In the context of COVID-19, employers may screen employees entering the workplace for COVID-19 symptoms consistent with CDC guidance. For example, an employer may: (1) ask questions about COVID-19 diagnosis or testing, COVID-19 symptoms, and exposure to anyone with COVID-19 (but employers should be sure the question is broad and does not ask employees about specific family members so as not to run afoul of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (“GINA”)); (2) take an employee’s temperature; and (3) administer COVID-19 viral tests (but not anti-body tests). If an employee is screened and has symptoms that the CDC has identified as consistent with COVID-19, the employer may – and indeed, should – exclude the employee from the workplace. It is also okay – and again, advisable – for an employer to send an employee home who reports feeling ill during the workday.

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