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

Will California’s COVID-19 Rehiring and Retention Requirements Outlive the Pandemic?

As we dream of a “post-COVID” world, some obligations stemming from the pandemic will certainly be with us for some time.  One such obligation for some employers to note is California’s rehiring and retention requirements.

California Senate Bill 93, which added Labor Code section 2810.8, brings statewide requirements for covered employers to offer available job positions to employees laid-off due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Covered businesses include hotels, private clubs, event centers, airport hospitality operations, airport service providers, and those providing janitorial, building maintenance or security services to office, retail or other commercial buildings.  This section also applies even when an employer experiences certain ownership or organizational changes, for example, a change in ownership where the business is conducting the same or similar operations as before the COVID-19 state of emergency.

The law requires that, within 5 business days of establishing a position, a covered employer offer its employees laid off due to COVID-19 pandemic, in writing, “all job positions that become available [after its effective date] for which the laid off employees are qualified.”  Such qualification is determined based on the laid off employee holding the same or similar position at the time of the recent layoff.  If more than one employee is entitled to preference for a position, the employer must offer the position to the laid off employee with the greatest length of service on the employee’s date of hire.  The employee is afforded 5 business days to respond to the offer. 

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New DOL Proposed Rule Reverses Course on Treatment of Tipped Employees

On Monday, June 21st, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) that would alter regulations interpreting who is considered a “tipped employee” under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) yet again.  Specifically, the NPRM proposes (1) to withdraw the dual jobs Picture1portion of the Final Rule promulgated in December 2020; and (2) a new regulatory framework by which to determine whether an employee is performing work that meets the definition of a tipped occupation and allows the employer to take a tip credit under the FLSA.  Specifically, the FLSA allows an employer to pay a tipped employee less than the minimum wage – specifically $2.13 per hour under Federal law – only when the worker is engaged in a tipped occupation because the tips the employee receives should make up for the rest of minimum wage hourly rate.  The NPRM creates a revised standard by which an employer would determine who is a “tipped employee” and for what portion of that employee’s work hours the employer can take a tip credit and pay the employee at the lower rate.  The standard the DOL proposes to adopt generally reflects the interpretive guidance it maintained for decades before a new standard was established during the Trump Administration – the “80/20 Rule” – along with some other changes that the DOL asserts better define tipped work. 

Background of the Dual Jobs Standard for Tipped Employees

Under the FLSA, “tipped employees” are defined as those employees who customarily and regularly receive more than $30 a month in tips.  As stated, employers can pay tipped employees a reduced cash wage and claim a “tip credit” to make up the difference between the reduced cash wage and hourly minimum wage.  When the DOL first published its regulations on application of the tip credit, it directly addressed the scenario where an employee has “dual jobs” under 29 C.F.R. 531.56(e) – two jobs for the same employer.  In that situation, employers can take the tip credit only for the tipped job (i.e., the one routinely satisfying the $30-a-month provision).  Later, the DOL revised its Field Operations Handbook (FOH), vastly broadening the scope of its “dual jobs” distinction by applying it to dual tasks.  It stated that when “tipped employees spend a substantial amount of time (in excess of 20%) performing preparation work or maintenance, no tip credit may be taken for the time spent in such duties.”  This is what’s known as the “80/20 rule.”

The DOL enforced this interpretation until 2018 when Continue reading

State COVID-19 Regulations Multiply as Fed. OSHA Declines to Adopt General Industry COVID-19 Regulations

Well over a year after the pandemic began, federal OSHA has declined to adopt a set of COVID-19 regulations for general industry.  Shape,3d,Of,State,Of,New,York,Map,With,FlagJust yesterday, federal OSHA announced that it had “completed” the rulemaking process for the COVID-19 emergency temporary standard, which will only apply to healthcare industry employers.  This long awaited rule is expected to be released later today.  While federal OSHA has been evaluating whether a COVID-19 ETS is even necessary, several states have been aggressive in passing their own workplace safety and health rules related to COVID-19.  Most recently, New York State passed the New York Health and Essential Rights Act (HERO Act), which went into effect just last week on June 4, 2021.  New York State joins a number of states that have promulgated COVID-19 regulations, including California, Virginia, Oregon, Michigan, and, in the near future, Maryland.  In light of federal OSHA’s decision to adopt COVID-19 regulations solely related to the health care industry, several other states may take action to implement their own COVID-19 regulations.  New York State’s HERO Act, however, goes even one step further.  The HERO Act is not solely focused on COVID-19, it addresses any and all airborne infectious diseases.

New York is also the first state in the country to require its Department of Labor to develop “industry-specific” health and safety standards for private sector employers to reduce the risk of airborne illnesses for employees (including but not limited to COVID-19).  New York employers should move quickly to adopt safety and health plans and revise employee handbooks to conform with the Act’s requirements.  Below is an overview of the key provisions of the Act.

Safety Plans

Under Section 1 of the HERO Act, all private employers, of any size, are required to create a written prevention plan of health and safety standards to protect employees from workplace exposure to airborne infectious diseases.  The New York State Department of Labor (NY DOL), in consultation with the Department of Health, was required to publish industry-specific model safety and health plan by June 4, 2021, however that deadline was not met.  As a condition to signing the act, Governor Cuomo secured an agreement with the New York State Legislature to make technical changes to the Act, which included providing the NY DOL and employers more specific instructions in developing and implementing the workplace standards.  The NY DOL indicated that the model plan is currently being drafted, but there is no firm deadline on when that will be issued.

However, the HERO Act does specifically outline what the model standard is required to address, which includes Continue reading

How to Navigate the Thorny Legal Landscape Around Employee Vaccination Status

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

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:

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Illinois Senate Bill 1480 Takes A Direct Aim at Ensuring Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Illinois Workplaces

policies and proceduresSenate 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

Return of California’s COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave

By Andrew J. Sommer and Ashley D. Mitchell

California has just reinstated the COVID-19 specific paid sick leave law that expired at the end of 2020 but this time with a twist.  As we discussed in a blog post last year, California enacted the 2020 COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave law to extend benefits to employees not covered by the paid benefits provision of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).  While the FFCRA’s paid sick leave provision lapsed on December 31, 2020 along with California’s 2020 COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave law, California has just passed, effective March 29, 2021, the 2021 COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave law extending benefits again with significantly expanded eligibility.

Eligibility Requirements

The 2021 COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave law requires all California employers with more than 25 employees to provide COVID-19 related paid sick leave (up to 80 hours) to employees who cannot work or telework due to the reasons discussed below.  This paid leave is in addition to any payment that was provided under the previous COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave law expiring on December 31, 2020.  The 2021 COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave law does not apply to independent contractors, unlike the previous law, and expands upon the eligibility criteria.  The California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) has issued 2021 COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave FAQs offering detailed guidance on this new law.

Covered employees are now eligible under the 2021 COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave law if they are unable to work or telework due to any of the following reasons: 

  • The covered employee is subject to a quarantine or isolation period related to COVID-19, as defined by an order or guidelines of the State Department of Public Health, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or a local health officer who has jurisdiction over the workplace
  • The covered employee has been advised by a healthcare provider to quarantine due to COVID-19, or is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and is seeking a medical diagnosis
  • The covered employee is caring for a family member (as defined) who is either subject to a quarantine or isolation period or has been advised by a healthcare provider to quarantine due to COVID-19
  • The covered employee is caring for a child whose school or place of care is closed or unavailable due to COVID-19 on the premises
  • The covered employee is attending a vaccine appointment or cannot work or telework due to vaccine-related symptoms
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Employment Law Update in D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and Illinois [Webinar Recording]

On March 24th, Daniel C. Deacon and Ashley D. Mitchell presented a webinar regarding an Employment Law Update in D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and Illinois.

CaptureThe District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia have enacted or are considering a host of changes that employers need to keep track of in 2021, such as revisions to discrimination laws, wage and hour laws, labor laws, and workplace safety and health regulations.

Illinois employers should be aware of an already existing minimum wage increase that takes effect in 2021, and there are a host of laws that took effect at various points in 2020. Indeed, in 2020, employers were faced with an expanded Illinois Human Rights Act that applies beyond the physical workplace, covers non-employee contractors and protects against discrimination based on perceived (in addition to actual) protected status. There were also special new rules enacted that apply to restaurants, bars and coffee shops, as well as disclosure requirements that will necessitate notifying the Department of Human Rights of adverse judgments in employment discrimination or harassment matters. Finally, the Victims’ Economic Security and Safety Act was amended and the signed “trailer bill” has clarified what employers should do if they wish to prohibit the use of marijuana as part of their workplace drug and alcohol policy.

Participants in this webinar learned: Continue reading

Employment Law Update in D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and Illinois [Webinar]

On Wednesday, March 24th at 1:00 P.M. EST, join Daniel C. Deacon and Ashley D. Mitchell for a webinar regarding an Employment Law Update in D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and Illinois.

CaptureThe District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia have enacted or are considering a host of changes that employers need to keep track of in 2021, such as revisions to discrimination laws, wage and hour laws, labor laws, and workplace safety and health regulations.

Illinois employers should be aware of an already existing minimum wage increase that takes effect in 2021, and there are a host of laws that took effect at various points in 2020. Indeed, in 2020, employers were faced with an expanded Illinois Human Rights Act that applies beyond the physical workplace, covers non-employee contractors and protects against discrimination based on perceived (in addition to actual) protected status. There were also special new rules enacted that apply to restaurants, bars and coffee shops, as well as disclosure requirements that will necessitate notifying the Department of Human Rights of adverse judgments in employment discrimination or harassment matters. Finally, the Victims’ Economic Security and Safety Act was amended and the signed “trailer bill” has clarified what employers should do if they wish to prohibit the use of marijuana as part of their workplace drug and alcohol policy.

Participants in this webinar will learn: Continue reading

Things Employers Should Consider as the $15 per hour Minimum Wage Gains Traction

The $15 per hour minimum wage is not a new idea, although a minimum wage increase under the Fair Labor Standards Act has garnered new attention in recent months. Raising the minimum wage was one of President Biden’s campaign promises and both the House and the Senate have re-introduced legislation to raise the federal minimum wage. Some states, like California, Connecticut, Illinois, and New York are already on track to have a $15 per hour minimum wage by 2025. But what does all this mean for employers? According to a recent Congressional Budget Office study increasing the federal minimum wage would raise the wages of at least 17 million Americans. Therefore, employers should begin thinking about how the progressive increase of the minimum wage will impact their resources.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) dictates the federal minimum wage, rules surrounding overtime pay and hours worked, and recordkeeping requirements. Two types of employers are covered under the FLSA: enterprises and individuals. Enterprises have at least two employees and are (1) those that have an annual dollar volume of sales or business done of at least $500,000 or (2) hospitals and businesses providing medical or nursing care for residents, schools, and preschools, and government agencies. Individuals are employers whose employees are engaged in work that regularly involves interstate commerce. Executive, administrative, and professional employees (including teachers and academic administrative personnel in elementary and secondary schools) are FLSA minimum wage and overtime exempt provided they are paid at not less than $684 per week on a salary basis. These salary requirements do not apply to outside sales employees, teachers, and employees practicing law or medicine. This exception is commonly referred to as the white collar exception. Other minimum wage and overtime exemptions include creative professionals, computer employees, and highly compensated individuals.

If the $15 per hour minimum wage legislation passes, employers may consider making hourly employees who would otherwise be FLSA exempt salaried. There are several benefits to be gained if those employees were correctly classified as minimum wage and overtime exempt. First, predictable wages. Hourly employees who work more than 40 hours per week are entitled to 1.5 times their regular rate of pay for each additional hour worked. If the $15 per hour minimum wage passes, that would be an overtime rate of pay of $22.50 per hour. Salaried white collar employees are not subject to the same overtime pay. Second, the elimination of recordkeeping. Employers must keep a record of all hours worked by their hourly employees. For about the past year, many white collar employees have tele-worked due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Tele-work has made it challenging for employers to keep track of employee hours worked. Whereas before an employee may have used a daily timeclock located inside the office, now employers have had to come up with creative solutions to comply with the FLSA recordkeeping requirement. With many companies predicting that even after the pandemic tele-work may still be available at least one day a week for all white collar employees, correctly classifying white collar employees as exempt by making them salaried eliminates the need to keep track of employees’ working hours.

Employers who do consider changing their white collar employees from hourly to salaried should exercise caution. The U.S. Wage and Hour Division has outlined specific tests for every exempt employee category and employers do not want to run the risk of misclassifying employees as it could result in a lawsuit. Furthermore, employers should make sure that the decision is made equitably so as not to run afoul of other labor and employment laws like Title VII and The Americans with Disabilities Act. Ultimately, the decision of whether to make an otherwise FLSA exempt hourly employee salaried should take into account the employer’s resources and be made with the assistance of legal counsel.