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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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

Pfizer Vaccine’s Full FDA Approval – What Does This Mean for Employers?

Earlier this week, on August 23, 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration fully approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.   Earlier this year, many employers were hesitant to issue vaccine mandates and expressed concerns about potential legal risks associated with such a mandate since the COVID-19 vaccines were only approved for emergency use.  While the full approval designation may not change the legal landscape as it relates to vaccine mandates, many employers may feel more comfortable imposing such mandates. 

As explained in our prior blog, employers can mandate employee vaccinations under federal law.  The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued guidance several months ago stating that employers generally can mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for employees who physically enter the workplace without running afoul of the federal anti-discrimination laws it enforces.  The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) also issued a slip opinion on July 6, 2021, regarding vaccination mandates and the emergency use authorization status of the vaccines:

We conclude that section 564(e)(1)(A)(ii)(III) concerns only the provision of information to potential vaccine recipients and does not prohibit public or private entities from imposing vaccination requirements for vaccines that are subject to EUAs.

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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

The State of the Law Regarding Marijuana, Drug Testing and Background Checks [Webinar Recording]

On July 13, 2021, Dan Deacon, Aaron Gelb, and Ashley D. Mitchell presented a webinar regarding “The State of the Law Regarding Marijuana, Drug Testing and Background Checks”.

CaptureThe green wave continued to roll through America during 2020, as several new jurisdictions legalized marijuana in some form. However, new regulatory developments regarding medical and recreational marijuana have created a host of compliance concerns for employers. 35 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation giving medical marijuana usage the green light. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana. Several states have also enacted laws making the possession of small amounts of the drug a civil, not criminal, offense. Although marijuana is currently still illegal under federal law, for the first time in fifty years, a bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives to remove marijuana from the Schedule I controlled substances list in the Controlled Substances Act. In sum, it seems to be only a matter of time before marijuana is legalized in some form throughout the entire country.

This webinar explored the changing legal landscape concerning marijuana, analyzed potential issues related to zero-tolerance policies, and reviewed tips for developing effective drug testing and background check policies. More specifically, participants learned: Continue reading

How to Avoid a $100 Million Dollar ADA Verdict and Other Lessons Learned at Wal-Mart’s Expense

Last week, a federal jury ordered Wal-Mart to pay Marlo Spaeth, an employee with Down syndrome, $125 million in punitive damages and $150,000 in compensatory damages for failing to accommodate her disability and terminating her employment.  While it would be easy to write-off this verdict as a runaway jury trying to send a message to a company which is, by far, the largest private employer in the United States, there are still lessons to be learned here that apply to employers of all sizes.  Whether you employ 150; 1,500 or 1.5 million people, failing to handle employee requests for accommodation (a plea for help, really) in a thoughtful, humane matter has the potential to blow up in your face in a spectacular fashion.

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EEOC Updates COVID-19 Vaccination Guidance

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Last week, Conn Maciel Carey posted a blog article about How to Navigate the Thorny Legal Landscape Around Employee Vaccination Status.  One of the observation in that article was that we were all on the edge of our seats waiting for the EEOC to issue promised guidance about employer incentives and mandates about the COVID-19 vaccination.  On Friday, the EEOC finally issued much-anticipated updated FAQs about the legal landscape of various employer vaccinations policies.

Here is a summary of the vaccine section of the guidance:

May employers ask employees about vaccination status under federal law?  See FAQs K9, K5, K15, K16, K18, K19

  • Yes – does not violate ADA or GINA.
  • However, employer should not ask “why” an employee is unvaccinated, as this could compel the employee to reveal disability information that is protected under the ADA and/or GINA.
  • Recommended practice: If employer requires documentation or other confirmation of vaccination, “notify all employees that the employer will consider requests for reasonable accommodation based on disability on an individualized basis.”

Is vaccination information “confidential” under the ADA?  See FAQ K4

  • Yes, this includes documentation (i.e., the white vaccination card)  or “other confirmation” of vaccination, which we presume means any self-attestation form or email from the employee, as well as any record, matrix, spreadsheet, or checklist created by the employer after viewing employees’ vaccination cards or receiving a verbal confirmations from employees.
  • The records or information must be kept confidential and stored separately from employee personnel files.

How may employers encourage employees and family members to get vaccinated?  See FAQ K3 Continue reading

ADA Website Compliance Issues – Best Strategies for Employers [Webinar Recording]

On Tuesday, May 18, 2021, Jordan B. Schwartz and Megan S. Shaked presented a webinar regarding ADA Website Compliance Issues – Best Strategies for Employers.

CaptureThe pandemic has not decreased the number of lawsuits filed against businesses, hotels, and other places of public accommodation alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Indeed, dozens of lawsuits continue to be filed daily against hotels for their failure to identify and describe accessible features at their properties in sufficient detail on their websites. In a relatively new twist, many of these lawsuits now also allege that hotels are fully liable for the failure of Online Travel Agencies such as Orbitz or Expedia to provide information on their website about the accessible amenities of the hotel, including its guestrooms, or to allow an individual with a disability to book an accessible guestroom.

While many ADA lawsuits also continue to be filed alleging that hotel websites cannot be used by individuals with visual or hearing impairments, there is positive news in that regard, Continue reading

[Webinar] ADA Website Compliance Issues – Best Strategies for Employers

On Tuesday, May 18, 2021 at 1:00 p.m. EST, join Jordan B. Schwartz and Megan S. Shaked for a webinar regarding ADA Website Compliance Issues – Best Strategies for Employers.

CaptureThe pandemic has not decreased the number of lawsuits filed against businesses, hotels, and other places of public accommodation alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Indeed, dozens of lawsuits continue to be filed daily against hotels for their failure to identify and describe accessible features at their properties in sufficient detail on their websites. In a relatively new twist, many of these lawsuits now also allege that hotels are fully liable for the failure of Online Travel Agencies such as Orbitz or Expedia to provide information on their website about the accessible amenities of the hotel, including its guestrooms, or to allow an individual with a disability to book an accessible guestroom.

While many ADA lawsuits also continue to be filed alleging that hotel websites cannot be used by individuals with visual or hearing impairments, there is positive news in that regard, as a recent business-friendly ruling out of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals may make it more difficult for plaintiffs to bring claims against companies for inaccessible websites. That being said, this ruling conflicts with rulings from other circuits that reach the opposite conclusion and thus, a supreme court review of this issue may be brewing. Regardless, it remains important that businesses ensure the accessibility of their websites while also providing an appropriate “accessibility statement” explaining to users the steps you have taken to improve your website’s accessibility.

Unfortunately, there is no sign that ADA lawsuits are slowing down. On the contrary, serial plaintiffs continue to file dozens of these lawsuits each and every day. This presentation will present practical tips and cost-effective strategies for managing the risk of ADA-related litigation in this ever-evolving area of the law.

Participants in this webinar will learn:

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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