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.

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

Battle Over Employment Arbitration Agreements In California Continues

By Megan Shaked

The seemingly never ending battle over employment arbitration agreements in California continues with last week’s Ninth Circuit court decision vacating a preliminary injunction over 2019’s California Assembly Bill 51 (previously discussed here and here).

Back in 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 51, which added section 432.6 to the California Labor Code and sought to ban new mandatory arbitration agreements to the extent they cover any discrimination claims under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), or any claims under the California Labor Code.  Under this legislation, an applicant or employee could not, as a condition of employment, continued employment or the receipt of any employment-related benefit, be required to waive any right, forum, or procedure under the FEHA or any other specific statute governing employment.  Employers would also be prohibited from threatening, terminating or otherwise retaliating or discriminating against an applicant or employee because of the refusal to consent to a waiver.  Violations of these provisions would constitute unlawful employment practices under the FEHA and would be a misdemeanor.

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.

Continue reading

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

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.

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

Announcing Conn Maciel Carey’s 2021 Labor and Employment Webinar Series

2021 Labor and Employment Webinar Series

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 President Trump’s Administration comes to an end, 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.  This complimentary webinar series will focus on a host of the most challenging and timely issues facing employers, examining past trends and looking ahead at the issues most likely to arise.

Conn Maciel Carey’s complimentary 2021 Labor and Employment Webinar Series, which includes (at least) monthly programs put on by attorneys in the firm’s national Labor and Employment Practice, is designed to give employers insight into legal labor and employment developments.

​To register for an individual webinar in the series, click on the link in the program description below. To register for the entire 2021 series, click here to send us an email request, and we will register you. If you missed any of our past programs from our annual Labor and Employment Webinar Series, click here to subscribe to our YouTube channel to access those webinars.


2021 Labor & Employment Webinar Series – Program Schedule

California Employment Law Update for 2021

Wednesday, January 20th

Marijuana, Drug Testing and Background Checks

Tuesday, July 13th

COVID-19 Vaccine: What Employers Need to Know

Thursday, February 11th

Employee Misconduct Defense & Employment Law

Wednesday, August 11th

Employment Law Update in D.C, MD, VA and Illinois

Wednesday, March 24th

Employee Handbooks, Training and Internal Audits

Tuesday, September 21st

Withdrawal Liability Pensions

Wednesday, April 14th

NLRB Update

Tuesday, October 19th

ADA Website Compliance Issues –  Best Strategies for Employers

Tuesday, May 18th

Avoiding Common Pitfalls: Non-Compete, Trade Secrets and More!

Wednesday, November 10th

What to Expect from DOL Under the Biden Admin.

Wednesday, June 16th

Recap of Year One of the Biden Administration

Tuesday, December 14th

   

See below for the full schedule with program descriptions, dates, times and links to register for each webinar event.

Continue reading

What Employers Need to Know About Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccines

With the availability of a safe, effective COVID-19 vaccine edging closer and closer, employers understandably have a number of questions regarding their role in the workplace – whether and when they can require a vaccination, what exceptions are required in a mandatory vaccination program, and whether they should require (as opposed to encourage and facilitate) the COVID-19 vaccine for employees once it becomes available.  This summer, the World Health Organization reported that nearly 200 potential vaccines were currently being developed in labs across the world, and as of mid-October, disclosed that more than 40 had advanced to clinical stage testing on humans.  Drug manufacturers estimate that a vaccine will be ready and approved for general use by the end of this year, although logistically not ready for widespread distribution until mid-2021.  Indeed, just over the past couple of weeks, Pfizer and Moderna have made promising announcements regarding the results of their clinical trials.  Namely, on Monday, November 9, 2020, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that a vaccine candidate against COVID-19 achieved success in the firm interim analysis from the Phase 3 study.  The vaccine candidate was found to be more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 in participants without evidence of prior SARS-CoV-2 infection in the first interim efficacy analysis.  According to the announcement, submission for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is planned for soon after the required safety milestone is achieved, which is currently expected to occur in the third week of November.  Additionally, as reported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on November 16, 2020, there have been promising interim results from a clinical trial of a NIH-Modern COVID-19 vaccine.  An independent data and safety monitoring board (DSMB) reported that the vaccine candidate was safe and well-tolerated and noted a vaccine efficacy rate of 94.5%.  Accordingly, as the reality of a vaccination nears, employers are inquiring whether they can and should mandate the vaccine for their employees.

  1. Can Employers Require Employees to Take the COVID-19 Vaccine?

As a threshold matter, it should be noted that, according to a member of the federal advisory panel on immunizations that will be making recommendations to the CDC on who should get the first doses, vaccines authorized under the FDA’s emergency use authority, as these COVID-19 vaccinations will be at the start, cannot be mandated.  Any COVID-19 vaccine brought to market under an EUA instead of the normal non-emergency approval process will, by necessity, lack long term safety data.  Once a vaccine receives an EUA from FDA, FDA has authorized the vaccine for use according to the terms of the EUA.

In general though, employers can require vaccination as a term and condition of employment, but such practice is not without limitations, nor is it always recommended.  Although the issue is only now coming to the forefront of our national conscience, mandatory vaccinations in the workplace are not new, and have been particularly prevalent among healthcare providers.  Some variability exists under federal law and among federal agencies, but for the most part, mandatory vaccination programs are permissible, as long as employers consider religious accommodation requests under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and medical accommodation requests under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

OSHA has long taken the position that employers can require employees to take flu and other vaccines, but emphasizes that employees “need to be properly informed of the benefits of vaccinations.”  In the healthcare industry, for example, mandatory vaccination programs for employees are common.  Indeed, several states have laws that require healthcare employers to offer the vaccine or to ensure that employees receive it (with certain exceptions).  The CDC has long recommended that all healthcare workers get vaccinated, including all workers having direct and indirect patient care involvement and exposure.

Continue reading

New Maryland Law Requires Hotels to Provide Lower Beds in Accessible Guestrooms

With relatively little fanfare, the State of Maryland recently enacted a law requiring hotels and other places of lodging (with at least 4 guestrooms) to provide beds of certain heights in accessible guestrooms for individuals with disabilities.  Of note, providing beds of specified heights in accessible guestrooms is not required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

This law, titled an “Act for Lodging Establishments – Accessible Rooms for Individuals with Disabilities – Bed Height,” requires each accessible guestroom in a Maryland hotel or other place of lodging to be furnished with a bed that measures at least 20 inches but not more than 23 inches from the floor to the top of the mattress, and has at least a 7-inch vertical clearance under the bed for lift access.  Average bed heights tend to be 25 inches or more, while the average seat height of many wheelchairs is 19 inches. So, these new bed height requirements will certainly require some changes.

The new bed height requirements must be met by the following dates:

  • 25% of the beds in accessible guestrooms must meet these requirements by December 31, 2021;
  • 50% of the beds in accessible guestrooms must meet these requirements by December 31, 2022;
  • 75% of the beds in accessible guestrooms must meet these requirements by December 31, 2023; and
  • 100% of the beds in accessible guestrooms must meet these requirements by December 31, 2024.

While hotels and other places of lodging in Maryland continue to try and regroup and adapt in the wake of the pandemic, this is yet another thing that they will have to keep in mind, and another cost they will need to incur.  While 25% of the beds in accessible guestrooms do not need to meet these new requirements until the end of next year, this is not something that can be done overnight.  So, hotels should begin implementing plans for these new beds in the coming months in order to ensure that the applicable deadlines can be met. Indeed, to the extent that accessible guestrooms are vacant already due to the pandemic and the necessary work can be done safely in accordance with CDC, OSHA, and other applicable guidelines, this might be an ideal time for Maryland hotels to make the necessary changes to avoid disruption, and ensure compliance with the new law.