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.

Continue reading

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

D.C. Paid Family Leave Law Takes Effect

Effective today, July 1, 2020, eligible employees in the District of Columbia (“DC”) will be entitled to paid leave up to a designated period depending on the qualifying leave event.DC Flag for Blog  Here, we review and highlight important aspects of DC’s Paid Family Leave law.  For additional discussion on the DC Paid Family Leave law and frequently asked questions, please also see our prior post.

Covered Events and Applicable Leave Periods

The DC Paid Family Leave law provides leave benefits to eligible employees for three types of leave: (1) parental leave; (2) family leave; and (3) medical leave. Continue reading

COVID-19 OSHA Recordkeeping and Reporting: New OSHA Guidance Reverses Course on Work-Relatedness

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

There are myriad workplace safety and health implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, but one OSHA regulatory obligation about which we have received countless questions the past three months is the requirement to record on an OSHA 300 Log and/or pick up the phone and report to OSHA work-related cases of COVID-19.  This article explains the circumstances the OSHA recordkeeping and reporting obligations related to employee COVID-19 cases.

The Cold and Flu Exemption to OSHA Recordkeeping

By regulation, the common cold and flu are exempt from OSHA’s recordkeeping and reporting requirements (29 CFR Part 1904.5(b)(2)(viii)):

“An injury or illness occurring in the work environment that falls under one of the following exceptions is not work-related, and therefore is not recordable…. The illness is the common cold or flu.”

The rationale for the exemption is that the spread of the cold and flu is so pervasive and potential exposures are ubiquitous within and outside the workplace, so it can be nearly impossible to identify the specific source of infection.

Despite great personal sacrifice around the country in the form of mass self-quarantine, the scale of infection of COVID-19 continues to spread like the flu and common cold, with even more dire consequences.  Nevertheless, OSHA has repeatedly made clear that COVID-19 is not subject to the cold/flu recordkeeping exemption:

“While 29 CFR 1904.5(b)(2)(viii) exempts recording of the common cold and flu, COVID-19 is a recordable illness when a worker is infected on the job.”

OSHA has explained that the cold and flu recordkeeping exemption is not just an OSHA policy or enforcement philosophy.  Rather, it is a part of the regulation itself that went through APA notice-and-comment rulemaking.  And the scientific reality is, COVID-19 is not the cold or flu.  It is a different virus.  So without another rulemaking (that history suggests would take longer than it will to eradicate this illness), OSHA cannot just declare this serious illness to be exempt from recordkeeping and reporting requirements.

Indeed, over a series of guidance documents in April and May, OSHA has doubled-down on its decision that employers must spend time determining whether cases of COVID-19 are more likely than not work-related.

Determine Recordability of COVID-19 Cases

Consistent across all of OSHA’s COVID-19 guidance has been the basic structure for evaluating whether an employee’s COVID-19 case is recordable.  Employers will only be responsible for recording a case of COVID-19 if it meets the following criteria: Continue reading

BREAKING: OSHA Issues Enforcement Policy Relaxing Regulatory Compliance During the COVID-19 Crisis

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

The Coronavirus pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for employers that are attempting to meet OSHA regulatory obligations – such as annual training, auditing, testing, medical surveillance requirements, and the like – without creating greater risk of exposure to COVID-19 for their employees.  This evening (April 16, 2020), OSHA issued a new Enforcement Memorandum acknowledging that reality.  The enforcement memo, entitled “Discretion in Enforcement when Considering an Employer’s Good Faith Efforts During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic,” provides enforcement relief for employers who exercise good faith in the context of this extraordinary health crisis.

In explaining the need for this enforcement relief, OSHA recognized that:

“Widespread business closures, restrictions on travel, limitations on group sizes, facility visitor prohibitions, and stay-at-home or shelter-in-place requirements” have strained the “availability of employees, consultants, or contractors who normally provide training, auditing, equipment inspections, testing, and other essential safety and industrial hygiene services,” as well as the opportunity for “employee participation in training even when trainers are available.”  Similarly, “access to medical testing facilities may be limited or suspended.”

To address these very real challenges to achieving full compliance with various annual and other regulatory requirements, OSHA issued a temporary enforcement policy based on the agency’s enforcement discretion to relax enforcement of many existing regulatory obligations if complying with these obligations is not feasible or if doing so would pose an unreasonable risk of virus transmission among the employer’s workforce.  Today’s enforcement policy applies broadly to employers in all industry sectors, takes effect immediately, and will remain in effect indefinitely throughout the current public health crisis.

The heart of the new enforcement policy is this:

  • Where an employer is unable to comply with OSHA standards that require annual or recurring audits, reviews, training, assessments, inspections, or testing because of the Coronavirus pandemic, AND the employer has made good faith attempts to comply, OSHA “shall take such efforts into strong consideration in determining whether to cite a violation.”
  • But where the employer cannot demonstrate any efforts to comply or why trying to comply would be more hazardous, a citation may issue as appropriate.

As part of OSHA’s assessment whether an employer engaged in good faith compliance efforts, OSHA will evaluate whether the employer Continue reading