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 Labor, 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.
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.
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 K3Continue reading →
As the number of vaccinated individuals continues to increase and we are seeing a significant decrease in COVID-19 cases, the landscape of legal requirements applicable to employers and employees is changing, particularly related to employees who are fully vaccinated. Indeed, in an unexpected update to its guidance last week, the CDC stated that fully vaccinated individuals may resume essentially all indoor and outdoor pre-pandemic activities in almost all circumstances. Although federal agencies such as OSHA and the EEOC have not yet updated their relevant guidance on treatment of vaccinated workers to reflect these changes, they both have stated their intent to address, and in OSHA’s case follow, the CDC guidance, and many states are doing the same.
Accordingly, employers now, more than ever, must understand and may want to take certain actions based on the vaccination status of their workers. However, obtaining information on an employee’s status and using that information to dictate policies and practices in the work environment has legal implications and raises many important questions that could pose difficulties for employers who want to ensure that they proceed in compliance with applicable laws. Below, we provide answers to questions we have received related to employee vaccination status as well as tips to effectively deal with these novel and complex issues.
Question 1: Can employers ask employees about their COVID-19 vaccination status?
Yes, but employers should be mindful of compliance with federal and state laws on disability, privacy and discrimination. If the employer requests confirmation and/or proof that an employee has been fully vaccinated, this should be a simple, straightforward inquiry to determine an employee’s current vaccination status. Such a simple, general inquiry is legitimate and would be considered permissible under applicable employment laws, particularly if it is made to determine whether:
Senate Bill 1480 (SB 1480) signed by Governor J.B. Pritzker on March 23 is the latest in a long list of laws that have taken effect in Illinois aimed at ensuring diverse candidates have an equal opportunity in hiring, tenure or terms, and privileges and conditions of employment. In July 2014 Illinois “banned the box” when then Governor Pat Quinn signed the Job Opportunities for Qualified Applicants Act. The legislation prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from asking applicants about their criminal record until the employer has determined the applicant is qualified for the position and has selected the applicant for an interview and notified the applicant or if there is no interview made a conditional offer of employment. In July 2019 Governor Pritzker signed the Equal Pay Act Salary History Ban, which prohibits all employers in the state of Illinois from asking applicants about their current rate of pay or any benefits they are eligible to receive. Now, SB 1480 requires employers to provide notice in writing after an employer has made a preliminary decision to not extend the applicant a job offer because of their conviction record, obtain an Equal Pay certificate, and the Illinois Secretary of State will begin publishing employers EEO-1 data.
Amendment to the Illinois Human Rights Act
Senate Bill 1480 amends the Illinois Human Rights Act such that employers must provide written notice to applicants after making a preliminary decision not to offer employment to the applicant because of their conviction record. Under the amendment, unless otherwise authorized by law, it is a civil rights violation for an employer to use conviction records in employment related decisions, including hiring, promotion, renewal of employment, selection for training or apprenticeship, discharge, discipline, tenure or terms, and privileges or conditions of employment unless: Continue reading →
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.
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.
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.
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.
As the U.S. enters month seven of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers continue to grapple with how to keep employees safe without violating the rights of employees protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) has issued guidance to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace encouraging employers to: (1) actively encourage sick employees to stay home; (2) conduct daily in person health checks such as temperature and symptom screenings; and (3) ensure that workers are able to follow social distancing guidelines as much as practicable and encouraging employees to wear face masks where social distancing is not possible. Employers should remain vigilant against enacting policies meant to keep employees safe but have a disparate impact on employees in a protected class.
The Americans with Disabilities Act
The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against job applicants and/or employees with disabilities. If a job applicant or employee has a disability and requests an accommodation, employers must engage in an interactive process and are required to provide a reasonable accommodation to the extent it does not cause the employer undue hardship.
In the context of COVID-19, employers may screen employees entering the workplace for COVID-19 symptoms consistent with CDC guidance. For example, an employer may: (1) ask questions about COVID-19 diagnosis or testing, COVID-19 symptoms, and exposure to anyone with COVID-19 (but employers should be sure the question is broad and does not ask employees about specific family members so as not to run afoul of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (“GINA”)); (2) take an employee’s temperature; and (3) administer COVID-19 viral tests (but not anti-body tests). If an employee is screened and has symptoms that the CDC has identified as consistent with COVID-19, the employer may – and indeed, should – exclude the employee from the workplace. It is also okay – and again, advisable – for an employer to send an employee home who reports feeling ill during the workday.
Many states are beginning to re-open their economies, and employers are resuming or increasing business operations in some fashion. As employers make this transition, there are several key employment considerations that employers should pay close attention to. Below is an overview of some of the topics employers should carefully analyze when reopening or increasing business operations.
Exempt and Non-Exempt Employee Classification Issues
As employers begin to ramp up business or begin plans to do so, employers should carefully evaluate whether exempt employees performing a majority of work on non-exempt tasks still meet the administrative exemption Continue reading →
There have been a number of significant developments related to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus – now officially called “COVID-19.” The World Health Organization declared a global pandemic, President Trump initiated a National Emergency Order, and state and local officials have been ordering shutdowns of non-essential businesses and mandatory shelter-in-place orders. Furthermore, Congress passed emergency legislation that temporarily requires employers to provide paid sick and family leave and the Department of Labor has issued guidance on how employers should comply with employment and workplace safety laws.
Local craft breweries, distilleries, and wineries have been deemed essential businesses under current federal and state directives, such as the Virginia and Maryland governors March 23, 2020 orders, but the traditional way of doing business has changed considerably. These changes have raised numerous questions regarding how small businesses can successfully operate while complying with these new requirements.
During this webinar, participants will learn about recent developments, new federal legislation, EEOC, CDC and OSHA guidance, including:
Federally required Paid Family Leave and Paid Sick Leave;
Strategies for employers to prevent workplace exposures while complying with Federal and State labor and employment laws;
OSHA’s guidance about preventing workers from exposure to COVID-19 and related regulatory risks;
FAQs for employers about managing the Coronavirus crisis in the workplace;
Federal and state orders concerning essential businesses and financial assistance; and
Tips to maintain a thriving brewery, distillery, or winery while shifting business models.
For additional employer resources on issues related to COVID-19, please visit the Employer Defense Report and OSHA Defense Report. Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force is monitoring federal, state, and local developments closely and is continuously updating these blogs with the latest news and resources for employers.