Historic U.S. Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings Begin for D.C. Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson

This week, hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee began for D.C. Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination to  the U.S. Supreme Court, which would make her the fourth woman Justice to serve on the Court at the same time.  President Biden nominated Judge Jackson earlier in March to replace Justice Stephen G. Breyer who is retiring after over 20 years on the Court.  The nomination is historic for several reasons and with the hearings occurring during Women’s History month, it is an example of the importance of honoring diversity at all levels of the branches of government. 

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

During the first day of her confirmation hearings, Judge Jackson detailed her personal and professional history.  She spoke in personal terms about her childhood, including her first exposure to the law as a young child while her father was a full-time law student, and her mother supported their family. She introduced her daughters and talked about navigating “the challenges of juggling my career and motherhood.”

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BREAKING – 6th Cir. Lifts Stay of OSHA’s Vaccinate-or-Test Emergency Temporary Standard

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

We apologize for interrupting what we hoped be a quiet, pre-holiday weekend for everyone, but we have very important and time sensitive news to share about the status of OSHA’s Vaccination, Testing, and Face Coverings Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS).  It was a very busy Friday night for everyone in the OSHA world.  In a remarkable turn of events, at 6:50 PM yesterday evening (December 17th), the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit dissolved the nationwide stay of OSHA’s Vaccination ETS that had been issued by the Fifth Circuit in November.

The Department of Labor and OSHA then immediately issued a statement that OSHA was moving forward with implementation and enforcement of the ETS, but also provided some enforcement relief for companies able to demonstrate good faith efforts to comply.  Then, within an hour of the Sixth Circuit decision being released, numerous parties filed an emergency application and motion with the US Supreme Court requesting the Supreme Court reissue a stay of the ETS.  And then, finally, shortly after midnight (approximately 1 AM last night), South Carolina along with 26 other State Attorneys General and a host of private entities also filed an emergency application for a stay.  What a night.

We briefly summarize the Sixth Circuit’s decision below and explain the lay of the land as it stands at this moment, what might occur next and, most importantly, what this means for employers across the nation.  Bottom line is that events are moving fast, but as we said a few weeks ago, do not put a fork in the ETS, and continue to prepare to come into compliance with it.  It is alive and well, at least until we hear from the Supreme Court.

Sixth Circuit Decision 

In a 2-1 opinion written by Obama-appointee Judge Jane Stranch and, notably, joined by Bush appointee Judge Julia Gibbons, the Sixth Circuit rescinded the nationwide stay of OSHA’s ETS that had been issued by the Fifth Circuit first an administrative stay on November 6th and then as a TRO on November 12th. The three-judge panel that heard the case consisted of one Obama appointee, one Bush (W.) appointee, and one Trump appointee.  Judge Gibbons (the Bush appointee) joined Judge Stranch, but she also wrote a separate concurring opinion.  Trump-appointee Judge Joan Larsen, who had purportedly been on a Trump’s short-list of potential nominees to the Supreme Court, dissented.

In a nutshell, the Court’s rationale for lifting the stay is that Continue reading

OSHA Issues Its COVID-19 Vaccination, Testing, and Face Coverings Emergency Temporary Standard

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

At long last, OSHA has revealed its COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing emergency regulation.  The Federal Register site has updated to show the pre-publication package, which is set to run officially in the Federal Register tomorrow, November 5th.  The 490-page package includes the Preamble and economic analysis of the regulation, as well as the regulatory text.  The regulatory text begins on PDF page 473.  Also here is a Fact Sheet about the ETS issued simultaneously by the White House.

We are extremely pleased to report that the rule aligns very well with positions for which CMC’s Employers COVID-19 Prevention Coalition advocated to OSHA and OMB on the most significant topics, like the responsibility for the cost of COVID-19 testing and a delayed implementation date, as well as very narrow record-preservation requirements, grandfathering of prior vaccine-verification efforts, and other elements. OSHA and the White House clearly listened to our views and the compelling rational we put forward for these positions, making the rule a much better, more effective and less burdensome one for employers.

Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force will be conducting a webinar about the ETS on Wednesday, November 10th at 1:00 PM ET.Here is a link to register for that program.

In the meantime, below is a detailed summary of the rule:

What is the stated purpose of the regulation?

The ETS is “intended to establish minimum vaccination, vaccination verification, face covering, and testing requirements to address the grave danger of COVID-19 in the workplace, and to preempt inconsistent state and local requirements relating to these issues, including requirements that ban or limit employers’ authority to require vaccination, face covering, or testing, regardless of the number of employees.”

Who is covered?

As the president signaled in his announcement and action plan from September 9, the ETS applies only to employers with 100 or more employees, and the rule does make it explicit that the way you count those employees is on a company–wide basis, not establishment-by-establishment.

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CDC Updates Mask Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated Individuals

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

We have an unfortunate update to share out of the CDC today.  Short story, do not throw away your “Masks Required” signs.

What Did the CDC Change About Mask Recommendations?

Earlier today (July 27th), the CDC updated its “Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People,” in which the CDC recommends:

  • fully vaccinated people wear masks in public indoor settings in areas where there is substantial or high transmission;
  • fully vaccinated people can choose to wear a mask regardless of the level of transmission, particularly if they are immunocompromised or at increased risk for severe disease from COVID-19, or if they have someone in their household who is immunocompromised, at increased risk of severe disease or not fully vaccinated; and
  • fully vaccinated people who have a known exposure to a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case be tested 3-5 days after exposure, and wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days or until they receive a negative test result.

Although the guidance speaks in absolutes, we think that the general limitations that have applied to all prior mask mandates throughout the pandemic continue to inform this updated guidance; i.e., “public indoor settings” is intended to cover locations where there is the potential for exposure to another individual, and not where an employee is “alone in a room” or “alone in a vehicle.”

Is Your County Experiencing Substantial or High Levels of Transmission?

To determine whether your workplace is in a county experiencing substantial or high transmission of COVID-19, the CDC uses two different indicators, the higher of which prevails:

  1. total new cases per 100,000 persons over the past seven days; and
  2. positive test rate over the past seven days.

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New Guidance Recommends Employers Engage with Employees and Unions to Mitigate COVID-19 in the Workplace

By: Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Taskforce

On June 10th, federal OSHA published significant updates to its principal workplace COVID-19 guidance – Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace.  This was an update to the original version that issued on January 29, 2021 in response to Pres. Biden’s Day 1 OSHA Executive Order, and the first time it has been updated since the COVID-19 vaccines became widely available.

At its core, OSHA’s new guidance was updated to align with CDC’s May 13, 2021 guidance regarding relaxing requirements for vaccinated individuals and advises that, unless otherwise required by another jurisdiction’s laws, rules, or regulations, most employers no longer need to take steps to protect their fully vaccinated workers who are not otherwise at-risk from COVID-19 exposure. 

To the extent workers are not vaccinated or are otherwise at risk, however, OSHA states that employers must continue to implement controls to help protect them, include:

  • separating from the workplace all infected people, all people experiencing COVID symptoms, and any unvaccinated people who have had a close contact with someone with COVID-19
  • implementing physical distancing
  • maintaining ventilation systems, and
  • enforcing the proper use of face coverings or PPE when appropriate.

Importantly, OSHA recommends employers engage with workers and their representatives to determine how to implement multi-layered interventions to protect unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 by taking some combination of these actions:

  • Providing paid time off for employees to get vaccinated.
  • Instructing unvaccinated workers who experience a close contact exposure, and any worker (vaccinated or unvaccinated) who experience COVID-19 symptoms or who are confirmed to be infected to stay home from work.
  • Implementing physical distancing for unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers in all communal work areas.  At fixed workstations where unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers are not able to remain at least 6 feet away from other people, install transparent shields or other solid barriers (e.g., fire resistant plastic sheeting or flexible strip curtains) to separate these workers from other people.
  • Providing unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers with face coverings or surgical masks, unless their work task requires a respirator or other PPE in accordance with relevant mandatory OSHA standards.
  • Training workers on your COVID-19 policies and procedures in formats and languages they understand.
  • “Suggesting” that unvaccinated customers, visitors, or guests wear face coverings, especially in public-facing workplaces such as retail establishments, if there are unvaccinated or at-risk workers there who are likely to interact with them.
  • Maintaining existing ventilation systems.
  • Performing routine cleaning and disinfection.
  • Recording and reporting COVID-19 infections and deaths. 
  • Setting up an anonymous process for workers to voice concerns about COVID-19-related hazards.
  • Implementing protections against retaliation.

The recommendation that employers engage with workers and their representatives (such as labor unions) will likely spur requests to meet and negotiate over what the employer is doing to implement these steps, and the recommendation to have an anonymous process for workers to voice concerns about COVID-19 hazards could lead to a rise of internal investigations and workplace responses. 

While OSHA does make clear that its updated guidance is not a standard or regulation, and it creates no new legal obligations, OSHA does specifically reference its enforcement authority under the OSH Act’s General Duty Clause.  Thus, as more employers increase their efforts to safety return their employees to the workplace this Summer and Fall, it would be prudent for employers to review the recommendations set forth in OSHA’s guidance and update their policies and procedures, including training of employees, accordingly. 

Is Your Workplace Covered by Fed OSHA’s New COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard?

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Nearly 16 months after the pandemic began, federal OSHA revealed its COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (the ETS) that imposes a series of requirements on healthcare employers.  While OSHA’s issuance of an ETS comes as no surprise to many who have been tracking the agency since Pres. Biden’s inauguration, the fact that it applies only to the healthcare sector and not to all industries is not what we expected.  Looking back, the promulgation of an ETS applicable to all workplaces seemed a foregone conclusion when President Biden took office in January and issued an Executive Order that same day directing OSHA to update its COVID-19 guidance, adopt a COVID-19 National Emphasis Program, evaluate whether an ETS was necessary and, if so, issue the ETS on or before March 15, 2021.

On April 27, 2021, OSHA delivered to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) an ETS, which, by all accounts, was a broad rule applicable to all industries, but because this was an emergency rulemaking, the proposed regulatory text was not available to the public.  In the weeks that followed, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), within OMB, hosted a series of meetings to hear from stakeholders regarding a proposed rule they had not seen.  On behalf of the Employers COVID-19 Prevention Coalition, Conn Maciel Carey organized and led two OIRA meetings at which we and our coalition members provided input and recommendations to OSHA and OMB.  As the meetings continued, the success of the vaccine rollout became clearer, with a corresponding drop in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, and then came the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) game-changing guidance on May 13, 2021 relaxing protocols for vaccinated individuals.  All of this caused many to question whether an OSHA ETS was still necessary.  With conditions on the ground improving rapidly, we continued to help stakeholder schedule and participate in OIRA meetings to argue that a general industry ETS was no longer needed.

On June 10, 2011, after more than 50 OIRA meetings, a final ETS applicable only to the healthcare industry was sent to the Office of the Federal Register for publication.  The standard appears at 29 C.F.R. Section 1910.502, and will appear in the Federal Register within a couple of weeks.

Explaining the purpose of the ETS for Healthcare, U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh offered this statement: Continue reading

CDC Drops Mask and Distancing Requirements for Fully Vaccinated Individuals — What About the Workplace?

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

By now you have likely heard the big news that yesterday, May 13th, the CDC updated guidance related to masks and physical distancing for individuals who are fully vaccinated (i.e., two weeks after receiving a single-dose vaccine or after the second dose in a two-dose series).  Specifically, in its updated guidance — “Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People” — the CDC now says fully vaccinated individuals may resume essentially all indoor and outdoor pre-pandemic activities in almost all circumstances.  As of now, there is no outside limit to one’s status as fully vaccinated.

In a public video released just before the CDC posted its updated written guidance, CDC Director Dr. Walensky shared that “based on data about vaccine effectiveness and the low risk of transmission to others, and universal access to vaccines today, the CDC is updating our guidance for fully vaccinated individuals.  Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities—large or small—without wearing a mask or physical distancing.”  Even in the case of “breakthrough” infections, Dr. Walensky acknowledged that there is likely low risk of transmission to others.  Dr. Walensky cautioned that “over the past year, we saw how unpredictable this virus can be, so we may have to change these recommendations if things get worse.”

The question everyone is asking is whether this updated guidance applies to employees and workplaces.  The best answer we can give now is that the guidance does technically apply to workplaces, but there is a significant exception relative to workplaces built into the new guidance that swallows most of the relief it purports to provide, at least for now in many jurisdictions. Here’s our analysis about why this new guidance does apply to workplaces, but how geographically limited the relief is for the time being. Continue reading

Attorney Spotlight – Meet Kara Maciel!

Kara ACFKara Maciel is a founding Partner of Conn Maciel Carey and Chair of the firm’s national labor & employment practice group

Ms. Maciel works to create workplace solutions for her clients.  She counsels clients on issues related to ADA accessibility requirements, wage hour compliance, prevention of harassment and discrimination, effective employment policies and procedures, and developing a compliant employee handbook. She also defends employers in litigation at both the federal and state levels.  For unionized and non-unionized companies, Ms. Maciel provides advice and counsel regarding the employer’s rights under the National Labor Relations Act.

Kara is an avid traveler (pre-pandemic) and foodie, so it makes perfect sense that she focuses much of her practice on issues facing companies in the hospitality industry (including hotel owners and managers, resorts, restaurants, and country clubs); retail; grocery; food distributors; and non-profit sectors.

Get to Know Kara!

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President-Elect Biden Announces Boston Mayor Marty Walsh as his Choice for Secretary of Labor

By: Kara M. Maciel, Eric J. Conn, and Beeta B. Lashkari

On January 7, 2021, President-elect Joe Biden announced his much-awaited choice for nominee to serve as Secretary of Labor, selecting Boston Mayor Marty Walsh.  Mayor Walsh made his mark as a labor leader, ultimately heading the Building and Construction Trades Council from 2011 to 2013.   Mr. Walsh was also a full-time legislator, serving in the Massachusetts state legislature for some 17 years before being elected mayor in 2014.Picture1

If confirmed, it is expected that Mayor Walsh’s close personal friendship with President-elect Biden will elevate the importance of the Labor Department in President Biden’s cabinet, allowing a Secretary Walsh significant influence in the Administration.    

Mayor Walsh’s strong ties to organized labor and his selection follows through on President-elect Biden’s campaign promise to give unions a stronger voice in labor policy in his Administration. Mayor Walsh has a reputation as a “pragmatic dealmaker,” and he is respected in Massachusetts by both business and labor for his reasonable approach to solving labor and employment issues facing the state.

Of the many issues likely to be tackled by the Labor Department over the next few years, one of the first and most impactful will be the likely issuance of a federal COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard by OSHA.  President-elect Biden has pledged to have OSHA quickly address this issue.  If a federal ETS is promulgated, it would replace the current Administration’s approach, which has relied heavily on CDC and agency guidance, as well as existing OSHA standards, like the respiratory protection standard and recordkeeping rules, to issue citations.  With respect to COVID-19, under Mayor Walsh’s leadership, the City of Boston implemented a broad array of sector-specific workplace instructions for businesses designed to limit the spread of the virus, including requirements for face coverings, social distancing, building capacity limits, staggered work shifts, and worksite ventilation improvements.

As Labor secretary, Mr. Walsh would be responsible not just for worker protection standards, but also for renewed paid family-leave benefits and expanded access to unemployment insurance, among myriad other responsibilities.  Likewise, it is expected that DOL under a Biden Administration would rescind a just-finalized regulation issued over the appropriate test for classifying whether workers are independent contractors or employees. 

Republicans like House Education and Labor Committee Ranking Member Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) are already pushing back on President-elect Biden’s selection, warning that Mr. Walsh’s labor background signals that he will try to impose “punitive one-size-fits-all regulations” on employers.  Nonetheless, based on his track record, it is expected that Mr. Walsh may make efforts to force compromise between business and labor rather than taking a more ideological, anti-business approach that would likely have been followed had President-elect Biden nominated Senator Bernie Sanders as Labor Secretary, who is said to have wanted the post.  

While his selection awaits the Senate confirmation process, Mr. Walsh could be confirmed by a simple majority vote that would not require backing from a single Republican senator. 

Virginia Promulgates the Nation’s First Mandatory COVID-19 Workplace Safety Regulation

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

On Wednesday, July 15, 2020, Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northan announced the commonwealth’s adoption of an emergency temporary standard (“ETS”) on infectious disease prevention.  With that, Virginia became the first state in the nation to promulgate a mandatory safety regulation designed to prevent and/or reduce COVID-19 infections in the workplace.  VA EOThe Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s Safety and Health Codes Board voted to approve the ETS after Governor Northam directed the creation of enforceable regulations in a May Executive Order (the same EO that mandated the use of masks in public for all Virginians).  Specifically, Governor Northam directed:

“The Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry shall promulgate emergency regulations and standards to control, prevent, and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. The regulations and standards … shall apply to every employer, employee, and place of employment within the jurisdiction of the Virginia Occupational Safety and Health (VOSH) program.”

Virginia state officials said they were forced to act because federal OSHA had not developed an employer safety standard to protect against infections from the Coronavirus, and thus the burden to do so has been left to the states.

The ETS, which was drafted by Virginia’s Department of Labor and Industry, took effect on July 27, 2020.  The rule will remain in effect as an ETS for at least six months, but can be made permanent through the Virginia OSHA (VOSH) formal rulemaking process defined by state law.  Although the Final Rule has not been published, the rulemaking process has been somewhat public, with early drafts of the rule discussed and debated in public meetings.

Generally, the ETS requires Virginia employers to: Continue reading