There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a significant surge in remote work nationwide, allowing more and more employees to work from their homes or some other location locally or in a completely different state from the employer’s brick and mortar location. This has created significant employment hurdles for employers because remote employees are generally subject to the laws of the city and state where they are physically located and perform work. Depending on state law and conflict of law principles, there may be exceptions for employees who are temporarily located in a state or not considered “based” within a state. But certainly for those who intend to continue to work from a different state on a more long-term basis, its likely that a particular state’s laws could apply.
And the challenges created by remote work are ones that are unlikely to disappear any time soon. Statistical projections show that by the end of 2022 remote work will make up about 25% of all jobs in North America. Notably, in 2021, about 67% of white-collar workers worked either partially or exclusively from home and almost 98% of remote workers surveyed said they would like to work remotely at least some of the time for the rest of their careers.
This desire to work remotely combined with the challenges in hiring and retaining workers that many employers are experiencing, makes it likely that employers will have to continue to grapple with if and how to incorporate remote work into their current structure, including how to effectively monitor employee performance and the employment laws that may be triggered related to this unique work environment.
The legal landscape facing employers seems as difficult to navigate as it has ever been. Keeping track of the ever-changing patchwork of federal, state and local laws governing the workplace may often seem like a full-time job whether you are a human resources professional, in-house attorney or business owner. Change appears to be the one constant. As we enter Year 3 of President Biden’s Administration, employers will continue to closely track the changes taking place at the NLRB, the DOL and the EEOC. At the same time, a number of states will continue introducing new laws and regulations governing workplaces across the country, making it more important than ever for employers to pay attention to the bills pending in the legislatures of the states where they operate.
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As COVID-19 infections continue to climb, the EEOC rolled back its guidance that COVID-19 viral screening tests conducted by employers is always permissive under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). The updated guidance requires employers to weigh a host of factors and determine whether COVID-19 viral screening is “job-related and consistent with business necessity,” the traditional standard for determining compliance with the ADA.
The Factors Employers Should Consider:
Under the EEOC’s updated FAQs, an employer may, as a mandatory screening measure, administer a COVID-19 viral test, if the employer can show it is “job-related and consistent with business necessity.” In making this determination, employers should assess these factors:
The level of community transmission
The vaccination status of employees
The accuracy and speed of processing different types of COVID-19 viral tests
The degree to which breakthrough infections are possible for employees who are “up to date” on vaccinations
The ease of transmissibility of the current variant(s)
The possible severity of illness from the current variant
What types of contact employees may have with others in the workplace or elsewhere that they are required to work
The potential effect on operations of an employee enters the workplace with COVID-19
It is worth noting, that employers still cannot require antibody testing before permitting employees to re-enter the workplace.
Employee requests for medical and/or religious accommodations in the workplace are not new. However, never before have these accommodation requests been such a hot-button topic, nor have these accommodation requests been used so frequently (and in particular, religious accommodation requests). The imposition of COVID-19 vaccine mandates has changed that, particularly with regard to religious accommodation requests, which has become the ultimate “gray area,” as both employers and employees alike have learned that sincerely held religious belief can include an employee’s religious-based objection to vaccinations. As a result, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has issued guidance regarding the obligations of employers under Title VII when an employee presents with a religious objection to a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy, which actually builds upon prior EEOC guidance regarding COVID-19 vaccinations in the employment context. Thus, there are multiple issues that employers need to keep in mind and juggle when addressing these vaccination accommodation requests.
Participants in this webinar learned how to best deal with such requests by their employees, including: Continue reading →
Last Wednesday (February 16th), at the direction of Virginia’s new Governor, Virginia OSHA’s Safety and Health Codes Board voted to withdraw VOSH’s COVID-19 Regulation. The Board’s vote came after VOSH recommended that COVID-19 no longer constituted a “grave danger,” the legal showing required to justify an emergency rule. Procedurally, the board vote was just the first step. Next is a 30-day public comment period, followed by a public hearing, then a final Board vote. If the measure is in fact repealed after the final Board vote, then Virginia employers would no longer have to require employees who work indoors to wear a face covering,; social distance; provide employee training; improve or maintain ventilation systems; or inform the VA Department of Health about outbreaks.
Although this move comes in lock step with Friday’s CDC announcement that it is rescinding mask guidance, along with other states like California and New Jersey rescinding their mask mandate, on January 15th Virginia’s newly elected Governor Glenn Youngkin issued an Executive Order instructing the Board to Continue reading →
As governors and big city mayors across the country have been allowing indoor masking mandates to expire over the last few weeks, last Friday, February 25th, the CDC unveiled a brand new approach to assessing COVID-19 risks and setting mask and distancing recommendations. The CDC’s old tool, which measured the number of COVID-19 cases to determine the relevant level of virus transmission in each community had lost its usefulness as it rendered nearly the entire country as high-risk (95% of all counties), even as the number of people getting seriously ill had dropped precipitously this year.
CDC’s new guidelines measure the impact the pandemic by looking at three factors week over week:
New cases per capita (as with the prior guidelines; but also
New COVID-19 related hospital admissions; and
The percentage of area hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients.
Each county will have a weekly “COVID Community Level Rating” that is either Low (green), Medium (yellow) or High (orange). Each level/color has recommended mitigation strategies, set in the table below:
Here is a link to CDC’s tool to identify the level of COVID-19 transmission in your county.
California Governor Newsom has signed legislation extending a new allotment of up to 80 hours of COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave to California workers through new Labor Code Sections 248.6 and 248.7. The leave is retroactive to January 1, 2022, and continues through September 30, 2022. Small businesses that employ 25 or fewer workers are not covered by the legislation.
Use of Sick Leave for Reasons Related to COVID-19
The legislation provides for up to 40 hours of COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave for employees who are unable to work or telework for certain reasons related to COVID-19, including:
2022 brings changes for California employers to a range of topics touching on traditional employment law matters as well as health and safety concerns, including related to COVID-19. This webinar will review compliance obligations for companies doing business in California, as well as discuss the practical impact of these new laws and best practices for avoiding potential employment-related claims.
In Western Growers Association, et al, v. Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board, et al, the California appellate court recently affirmed the lower court’s decision denying a challenge to Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS). This decision has far-reaching implications, affording considerable deference to the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board’s (Board) rulemaking process and authority to bypass regular rulemaking with emergency temporary standards supported by its own “declaration of emergency.” The Board – which is tasked with promulgating workplace safety rules – has had an oversized role during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As background, the Board’s COVID-19 ETS was approved, effective November 30, 2020, over the recommendation of Board staff finding that “Cal/OSHA’s limited resources should continue to be focused on enforcement and consultation outreach specifically targeted at employers and sectors of the economy with deficient COVID-19 protections,” as this is likely to be more effective than new rulemaking. Since then Cal/OSHA’s ETS has undergone numerous revisions, being “re-adopted” effective June 17, 2021 and then again on January 14, 2022. The regulation has been a moving target for employers, with the Board each time adopting modified text followed by updated FAQs .
It has been a real adventure trying to track all the different legal challenges in so many different courts to President Biden’s various different executive actions related to vaccination. While the fate of the OSHA Vaccinate-or-Test ETS (dead) and the CMC Healthcare Vaccine-Mandate (very much alive) are essentially settled by the Supreme Court, the Federal Contractor Vaccine-Mandate Executive Order (EO 14042) is still meandering its way through the federal courts. And there was a lot of activity in the courts this past Friday, January 21st, regarding the federal contractor EO and the federal employee vaccination mandate.
In the first case, Feds for Medical Freedom v. Biden, employees of federal contractors and employees of the federal government together are challenging both Executive Orders 14042 (vaccine-mandate for federal contractors) and 14043 (vaccine-mandate for federal employees). Judge Jeffrey V. Brown (a Trump-appointee to the S.D. of Texas) issued an opinion and order enjoining only enforcement of the federal employee mandate. Judge Brown’s reasoning in that case boiled down to a conclusion that injunctive relief is appropriate because: (1) the “Hobson’s Choice” of a workplace vaccine-mandate creates irreparable harm; and (2) the challenging federal employees have a likelihood of success on the merits because the President acted ultra vires and the implementation of EO 14043 violates the Administrative Procedures Act. Notably, Judge Brown declined to take action with regard to the federal contractor EO, noting that Judge R. Stan Baker (a Trump appointee to the S.D. of Georgia) in Georgia v. Biden had previously enjoined the federal government from enforcing the vaccination mandate on a nationwide basis.
While Judge Brown’s decision in Feds for Medical Freedom v. Biden did not change the status of the federal contractor EO, on the same day, Judge Baker issued a new order with regard to the injunction he had put in place in Georgia v. Biden in December. First, Judge Baker declined to address whether private federal contractors are enjoined from mutually agreeing with a federal agency to include COVID-19 safety clauses in their contracts; i.e., to voluntarily comply with the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force (“Task Force”) guidelines, as he viewed that as improperly seeking an advisory opinion while the case is pending on appeal. But on the broader question as to the scope of his national injunction, on Friday he wrote: Continue reading →