CDC Updates Mask Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated Individuals

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

We have an unfortunate update to share out of the CDC today.  Short story, do not throw away your “Masks Required” signs.

What Did the CDC Change About Mask Recommendations?

Earlier today (July 27th), the CDC updated its “Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People,” in which the CDC recommends:

  • fully vaccinated people wear masks in public indoor settings in areas where there is substantial or high transmission;
  • fully vaccinated people can choose to wear a mask regardless of the level of transmission, particularly if they are immunocompromised or at increased risk for severe disease from COVID-19, or if they have someone in their household who is immunocompromised, at increased risk of severe disease or not fully vaccinated; and
  • fully vaccinated people who have a known exposure to a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case be tested 3-5 days after exposure, and wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days or until they receive a negative test result.

Although the guidance speaks in absolutes, we think that the general limitations that have applied to all prior mask mandates throughout the pandemic continue to inform this updated guidance; i.e., “public indoor settings” is intended to cover locations where there is the potential for exposure to another individual, and not where an employee is “alone in a room” or “alone in a vehicle.”

Is Your County Experiencing Substantial or High Levels of Transmission?

To determine whether your workplace is in a county experiencing substantial or high transmission of COVID-19, the CDC uses two different indicators, the higher of which prevails:

  1. total new cases per 100,000 persons over the past seven days; and
  2. positive test rate over the past seven days.

Continue reading

[Webinar] Federal OSHA’s New COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard and Updated COVID-19 Workplace Guidance

On Wednesday, June 16, 2021 at 1:00 p.m. ET, join Conn Maciel Carey’s national OSHA Practice for a webinar regarding Federal OSHA’s New COVID-19 ETS and Updated COVID-19 Workplace Guidance.

On June 10th, federal OSHA finally revealed its much anticipated COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), but rather than a rule applicable to all industries, OSHA developed a regulation that is narrowly tailored only to certain healthcare settings.  For everyone else, federal OSHA simultaneously published significant updates to its workplace COVID-19 guidance that it had originally prepared in January 2021in response to President Biden’s Day 1 OSHA Executive Order.

The COVID-19 ETS, and its 900+ page Preamble, is a dizzying piece of regulation.  While there are lots of generalizations about how it applies only to hospital settings, there are quirks in the Applicability section that could sweep in other employers, including on-site medical clinics at manufacturing plants, COVID-19 testing facilities in otherwise non-healthcare workplaces, and general facilities support at healthcare locations, such as maintenance, housekeeping, and laundry services.  And in terms of substantive provisions, the ETS does depart from the COVID-19 landscape we have all grown accustomed to over the past year and a half – the ETS requires creation of new roles, will likely require updates to written prevention plans and training, may require new engineering installations and work on HVAC systems, and will definitely affect record making, recordkeeping, and reporting policies.

The updated guidance for all other industries will also likely result in material changes to the way employers are managing the COVID-19 crisis in the workplace.  However, those will be mostly welcome changes, as, at its core, OSHA’s updated guidance aligns OSHA’s recommendations with the CDC’s May guidance regarding dropping masks and distancing for fully vaccinated workers.  But the devil is in the details.

Participants in this webinar will learn the following:

  • To whom, where, and when does Fed OSHA’s new COVID-19 ETS apply
  • What does OSHA’s COVID-19 ETS require and prohibit
  • What employers need to know about OSHA’s updated COVID-19 workplace guidance
  • The impact of vaccination and verifying vaccination status on both the ETS and OSHA’s guidance

Click here to register for the June 16th webinar.

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COVID-19 Task Force Page

For resources on issues related to COVID-19, please visit Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Resource Page for an extensive index of frequently asked questions with our answers about HR, employment law, and OSHA regulatory developments and guidance, as well as COVID-19 recordkeeping and reporting flow charts.  Likewise, subscribe to our Employer Defense Report blog and OSHA Defense Report blog for regular updates about the Labor and Employment Law or OSHA implications of COVID-19 in the workplace.  Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force is monitoring federal, state, and local developments closely and is continuously updating these blogs and the FAQ page with the latest news and resources for employers.

Is Your Workplace Covered by Fed OSHA’s New COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard?

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Nearly 16 months after the pandemic began, federal OSHA revealed its COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (the ETS) that imposes a series of requirements on healthcare employers.  While OSHA’s issuance of an ETS comes as no surprise to many who have been tracking the agency since Pres. Biden’s inauguration, the fact that it applies only to the healthcare sector and not to all industries is not what we expected.  Looking back, the promulgation of an ETS applicable to all workplaces seemed a foregone conclusion when President Biden took office in January and issued an Executive Order that same day directing OSHA to update its COVID-19 guidance, adopt a COVID-19 National Emphasis Program, evaluate whether an ETS was necessary and, if so, issue the ETS on or before March 15, 2021.

On April 27, 2021, OSHA delivered to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) an ETS, which, by all accounts, was a broad rule applicable to all industries, but because this was an emergency rulemaking, the proposed regulatory text was not available to the public.  In the weeks that followed, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), within OMB, hosted a series of meetings to hear from stakeholders regarding a proposed rule they had not seen.  On behalf of the Employers COVID-19 Prevention Coalition, Conn Maciel Carey organized and led two OIRA meetings at which we and our coalition members provided input and recommendations to OSHA and OMB.  As the meetings continued, the success of the vaccine rollout became clearer, with a corresponding drop in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, and then came the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) game-changing guidance on May 13, 2021 relaxing protocols for vaccinated individuals.  All of this caused many to question whether an OSHA ETS was still necessary.  With conditions on the ground improving rapidly, we continued to help stakeholder schedule and participate in OIRA meetings to argue that a general industry ETS was no longer needed.

On June 10, 2011, after more than 50 OIRA meetings, a final ETS applicable only to the healthcare industry was sent to the Office of the Federal Register for publication.  The standard appears at 29 C.F.R. Section 1910.502, and will appear in the Federal Register within a couple of weeks.

Explaining the purpose of the ETS for Healthcare, U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh offered this statement: 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

EEOC Updates COVID-19 Vaccination Guidance

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Last week, Conn Maciel Carey posted a blog article about How to Navigate the Thorny Legal Landscape Around Employee Vaccination Status.  One of the observation in that article was that we were all on the edge of our seats waiting for the EEOC to issue promised guidance about employer incentives and mandates about the COVID-19 vaccination.  On Friday, the EEOC finally issued much-anticipated updated FAQs about the legal landscape of various employer vaccinations policies.

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 K3 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:

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

Status Update: Maryland Essential Workers’ Protection Act

Earlier this month, the Maryland Essential Workers’ Protection Act (“Act”) made it through both chambers by Sine Die and now awaits action by the Governor.  Above all, the bill would require the Maryland Secretary of Labor to establish COVID-19-specific safety regulations, also known as an “Emergency Temporary Standard” (“ETS”), within two weeks after the effective date of the Act.  This may take one of two forms:

  • if the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“Fed OSHA”) has issued an applicable ETS related to COVID–19, that ETS must be adopted (see our previous post regarding the status of Fed OSHA’s COVID-19 ETS rulemaking); or
  • if Fed OSHA has not issued an applicable ETS related to COVID–19, a State ETS must be adopted that:
    1. meets or exceeds the guidance provided in “Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID–19 in the Workplace” published on January 29, 2021, by Fed OSHA; and
    2. complies with certain additional criteria, requiring employers to:
      • notify the Maryland Department of Health within 24 hours after the confirmation of a positive case of COVID–19;
      • notify the Maryland Department of Health within 24 hours after the confirmation of three or more employees at a workplace testing positive for COVID–19 within a 14–day period;
      • post in a location visible to employees at the work site: information regarding COVID–19 symptoms; protocols for an employee’s reaction to experiencing COVID–19 symptoms; the minimum safety standards developed under the regulations; and the process for submitting a complaint to Maryland Occupational Safety and Health; and
      • comply with the prohibitions relating to terminating or discriminating against employees.

Importantly, the bill provides that “[t]his subtitle applies only to essential employers in industries and sectors identified by the Governor or a Federal or State agency as critical to remain in operation during the emergency[,]” where “emergency” is defined as “[a] catastrophic health emergency, as defined [under a certain section of the Public Safety Article], that is the subject of an Executive Proclamation . . . and is related to a communicable disease.”  The bill also offers a two-part definition for “essential employer,” providing that an “essential employer” means a “person that employs an essential worker” and that an “essential worker” means “an individual who: (1) performs a duty or work responsibility during an emergency that cannot be performed remotely or is required to be completed at the work site; and (2) provides services that the essential employer determines to be essential or critical to its operations.”  Essential employers may not “knowingly misclassify an essential worker as an independent contractor or other classification in order to avoid paying an essential worker any benefits due during an emergency . . .”    

Key safety and health requirements for covered employers include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Subject to availability, provide necessary amounts of safety equipment recommended for usage during the emergency at no cost to essential workers.
  • Adopt, maintain, and post written protocols to ensure an essential worker’s access to information regarding the applicable safety standards in effect during the emergency.
  • Provide or implement any other measures or requirements set by the Governor or a Federal or State agency to ensure the general health and safety of essential workers.
  • During an emergency, if an essential worker or any other workers has contracted the communicable disease that is the subject of the emergency at the work site, take proactive steps to minimize the risk of transmission, including informing essential worker that they may have been exposed.
  • Unless an essential workers is able to obtain testing free of charge, if an essential worker’s health insurance coverage or other benefits do not cover the cost of testing for the communicable disease that is the subject of the emergency, during the emergency, pay for testing for the communicable disease.
  • Report all positive test results to the Maryland Department of Health, and, when reporting, include demographic information about the essential worker and redact any personal identifying information to protect the identity of the essential worker.

Additionally, the bill provides that essential workers have the “right to refuse to perform an assigned task under [a certain section of this article and corollary regulations].” 

The bill also sets forth requirements for “public health emergency leave,” defined as “paid leave that an essential employer provides to an essential worker during an emergency as required under [a certain subsection of this section].”  The public health emergency leave section only applies, however, if the Federal or State government provides funding that can be used for public health emergency leave.  Should such funding become available, essential employers must provide an essential worker with public health emergency leave on the date the funding is made available to the essential employer.  The bill sets forth the specific conditions under which public health emergency leave may be taken, as well as the amounts of leave to which covered workers are entitles and documentation requirements. 

With respect to the conditions under which public health emergency leave may be taken, the bill provides that each essential employer must allow an essential worker to use public health emergency leave in relation to an emergency:

  • To isolate without an order to do so because the essential worker: has been diagnosed with the communicable disease that is the subject of the emergency; or is experiencing symptoms associated with the communicable disease that is the subject of the emergency and is awaiting the results of a test to confirm the diagnosis.
  • To seek or obtain a medical diagnosis, preventive care, or treatment because the essential worker is diagnosed with the communicable disease that is the subject of the emergency.
  • To care for a family member who is isolating, without an order to do so, because of a diagnosis of the communicable that is the subject of the emergency.
  • Due to a determination by a public health official or health care professional that the essential worker’s presence at the place of employment or in the community would jeopardize the heath of other individuals because of the essential worker’s exposure to, or exhibited symptoms associated with, the communicable disease that is the subject of the emergency, regardless of whether the essential worker has been diagnosed with the communicable disease.
  • To care for a family member due to a determination by a public health official or health care professional that the family member’s presence at the place of employment or in the community would jeopardize the heath of other individuals because of the family member’s exposure to, or exhibited symptoms associated with, the communicable disease that is the subject of the emergency or due to symptoms exhibited regardless of whether the family member has been diagnosed with the communicable disease.
  • To care for a child or other family member: when the care provider of the family member is unavailable due to the emergency; or if the child’s or family member’s school or place of care has been closed by a Federal, State, or Local public official or at the discretion of the school or place of care due to the emergency, including if the school or place of care is physically closed but providing instruction remotely.

The bill provides a specific definition for “family member,” which includes: biological children, adopted children, foster children, and stepchildren of the essential worker; biological parents, adoptive parents, foster parents, and stepparents of the essential worker or of the essential worker’s spouse; the spouse of the essential worker; biological grandparents, adopted grandparents, foster grandparents, and stepgrandparents of the essential worker; biological grandchildren, adopted grandchildren, foster grandchildren, and stepgrandchildren of the essential worker; biological siblings, adopted siblings, foster siblings, and stepsiblings of the essential worker; among others

If an essential worker believes that an essential employer has committed violations, the bill provides specific methods of recourse for the worker.  It also prohibits employers from discharging or otherwise discriminating against an employee because the employee is an essential worker who files a compliant or exercises a right under certain provisions of the law. 

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