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.

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What You Should Know About COVID-19, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act

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.

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D.C. Paid Family Leave Law Takes Effect

Effective today, July 1, 2020, eligible employees in the District of Columbia (“DC”) will be entitled to paid leave up to a designated period depending on the qualifying leave event.DC Flag for Blog  Here, we review and highlight important aspects of DC’s Paid Family Leave law.  For additional discussion on the DC Paid Family Leave law and frequently asked questions, please also see our prior post.

Covered Events and Applicable Leave Periods

The DC Paid Family Leave law provides leave benefits to eligible employees for three types of leave: (1) parental leave; (2) family leave; and (3) medical leave. Continue reading

COVID-19 Exposure Control and Response Plan: What Is It and Why Does Every Employer Need One?

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

As states across the country begin to loosen or lift stay-at-home and shutdown orders, many workplaces that had been idled, have just begun to or will soon resume operations.  Many states and localities are setting as a precondition for reopening, a requirement that they develop and implement a written, site-specific COVID-19 Exposure Control and Response Plan.

Regardless of any state or local requirement to develop such a plan, any business that operates without an Exposure Control Plan will be potentially exposed to a number of legal or business risks, such as an OSHA citation, being shutdown by a state or local health department, and/or becoming a target for a wrongful death action brought by families of employees, temporary workers, customers, vendors and/or guests. They should also plan to deal with a workforce that is scared and anxious about the company’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which may result in employees refusing to work (which would disrupt and complicate scheduling) and/or making regular and frequent complaints to OSHA about the purported unchecked hazard in your workplace.  Responding to these complaints will take time and cost money, distracting your business from its mission.  Retaliation claims under Section 11(c) of the OSH Act is another foreseeable consequence of a scared workforce.  Without an Exposure Control Plan in place, the legal vulnerabilities will be real and are potentially significant.

We focus below on five key reasons employers must develop a written COVID-19 Exposure Control and Response Plan.  But first, what is an exposure control plan?

What is an Exposure Control and Response Plan?

When OSHA identifies a serious safety or health hazard, it usually requires employers to develop a written program including the measures employers will take to counteract the hazard.  For example, OSHA requires written lockout/tagout programs to protect against hazardous energy; respiratory protection programs and process safety management programs to protect against hazardous chemical exposures; and emergency action plans to protect against the risk of fires in the workpalce.  Simply put, a COVID-19 Exposure Control Plan is a written safety plan outlining how your workplace will prevent the spread of COVID-19, covering issues such as:

  • How you will facilitate social distancing in your workplace;
  • What engineering or administrative controls you will implement when workers cannot remain at least 6′ apart;
  • The steps that you will take to ensure employees comply with personal hygiene practices;
  • What types of protective equipment you will provide for various tasks and operations;
  • What enhanced housekeeping protocols will be implemented for frequently touched surfaces, tools, and machines;
  • What you are doing to prevent/screen sick workers from entering the workplace;
  • How you will respond to confirmed or suspected cases among your workforce; and
  • How you will communicate with and train your workforce on these mitigation measures.

Five Reasons to Develop a Written COVID-19 Exposure Control Plan

First, whether you have remained open because you are an essential business or plan to reopen soon, you may soon find yourself required to Continue reading

Key Employment Considerations When Resuming or Increasing Business Operations

shutterstock_532208329Many 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.

  1. 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

[BONUS WEBINAR] HR and Workplace Safety Implications of COVID-19 for Brewers, Distillers, and Winemakers

On Monday, March 30, 2020 at 1 PM Eastern, join Eric J. Conn, Kara M. Maciel, and Daniel C. Deacon of the law firm Conn Maciel Carey for a complimentary webinar: “HR and Workplace Safety Implications of COVID-19 for Brewers, Distillers, and Winemakers.”

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.

​Click here to register for this webinar.

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.

March Update on How Employers Can Respond to COVID-19 with FAQs

By:  Kara M. Maciel and Beeta B. Lashkari

COVID

 

 

 

Since publishing our previous post last month, there have been a number of significant developments related to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus – now officially called “COVID-19.”  Notably, during the week of February 23, 2020, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) reported community spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 in California, Oregon, and Washington.  Community spread in Washington resulted in the first death in the U.S. from COVID-19, as well as the first reported case of COVID-19 in a health care worker, and the first potential outbreak in a long-term care facility.

Recent Developments and Federal Guidance

  • CDC has published an Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers, cautioning employers to use the guidance to determine the risk of the Coronavirus, and not to use race or country of origin to make a determination. The guidance covers recommended strategies for employers to use, including: (1) actively encouraging sick employees to stay home; (2) separating sick employees; (3) emphasizing staying home when sick, respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene by all employees; (4) performing routine environmental cleaning; and (5) advising employees before traveling to consult CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices and other CDC guidance.  Additionally, the guidance states that if an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace, but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).

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Time’s Up:  Illinois Employers Are On The Clock To Provide Sexual Harassment Training

Late last year, we summarized the many new employment laws with which Illinois employers would have to comply in 2020, including the requirement to provide sexual harassment training by the end of the year.  Now that 2020 is not so new anymore, employers should begin preparations to comply, so they are not left scrambling later this year.  This article will summarize the key points you need to know to stay compliant.

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  • Does this law apply to me—what is the threshold for coverage?

One and done—in other words, if you have at least one employee, the law applies to your company and you must train that employee… presumably in a one-on-one session.

  • What must we cover in the training session(s)?

Presently, we know that employer-provided training must cover, at a minimum, the following topics:

  1. an explanation of sexual harassment consistent with the Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA);
  2. examples of conduct that constitutes unlawful sexual harassment;
  3. a summary of relevant federal and state statutory provisions concerning sexual harassment, including remedies available to victims of sexual harassment; and
  4. a summary of responsibilities of employers in the prevention, investigation, and corrective measures of sexual harassment.
  • Who must be trained and when?

The law went into effect on January 1, 2020, but employers have until the end of the year—December 31, 2020—to provide the required training to both employees and managers.  There is no exception Continue reading

How Employers Can Respond to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus Outbreak

By:  Kara M. Maciel and Beeta B. Lashkari

Medical ExamThe 2019 Novel Coronavirus (“2019-nCoV” or “coronavirus”) is a respiratory illness that, with its spread to the United States, is raising important issues for employers.  This guide explains the outbreak, the legal implications of it, and how employers should be responding now to employees who might have the virus, are caring for affected family members, or are otherwise concerned about their health in the workplace.

The Coronavirus Outbreak

First detected in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, 2019-nCoV is a respiratory virus reportedly linked to a large outdoor seafood and animal market, suggesting animal-to-person spread.  However, a growing number of patients reportedly have not had exposure to animal markets, indicating person-to-person spread is occurring.  At this time, it is unclear how easily the virus is spreading between people.  Symptoms of coronavirus include fever, cough, difficulty breathing, runny nose, headache, sore throat, and the general feeling of being unwell.  The incubation period is approximately 14 days, during which time an individual may see no symptoms but may still be contagious. Continue reading

DC Paid Family Leave: February 1st Posting/Notice Requirement and More

As of July 1, 2020, eligible employees in the District of Columbia (“DC”) will be entitled to paid leave up to a designated period depending on the qualifying leave event.DC Flag for Blog  Covered employers should have begun making paid family leave contributions beginning July 1, 2019.  Specifically, covered employers must contribute a quarterly payroll tax of 0.62% of covered employees’ total gross wages from the immediate past quarter.  In addition to paying the required quarterly payroll tax, there are several other aspects of the law of which employers should be aware.  Here, we review and highlight important aspects of DC’s Paid Family Leave law, including the February 1st posting/notice deadline.  For additional discussion on the DC Paid Family Leave law and frequently asked questions, please also see our prior post.

Covered Events and Applicable Leave Periods

As you may know, the DC Paid Family Leave law provides leave benefits to eligible employees for three types of leave: (1) parental leave; (2) family leave; and (3) medical leave.  “Parental leave” includes events associated with the birth of a child, placement of a child with the employee for adoption or foster care, and placement of a child with an employee who legally assumes and fulfills parental responsibility for the child.  “Family leave” is leave taken to care for a family member with a diagnosis or occurrence of a serious health condition.  And “medical leave” is leave taken to attend to one’s own diagnosis or occurrence of a serious health condition. Continue reading