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:

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ADA Website Compliance Issues – Best Strategies for Employers [Webinar Recording]

On Tuesday, May 18, 2021, Jordan B. Schwartz and Megan S. Shaked presented a webinar regarding ADA Website Compliance Issues – Best Strategies for Employers.

CaptureThe pandemic has not decreased the number of lawsuits filed against businesses, hotels, and other places of public accommodation alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Indeed, dozens of lawsuits continue to be filed daily against hotels for their failure to identify and describe accessible features at their properties in sufficient detail on their websites. In a relatively new twist, many of these lawsuits now also allege that hotels are fully liable for the failure of Online Travel Agencies such as Orbitz or Expedia to provide information on their website about the accessible amenities of the hotel, including its guestrooms, or to allow an individual with a disability to book an accessible guestroom.

While many ADA lawsuits also continue to be filed alleging that hotel websites cannot be used by individuals with visual or hearing impairments, there is positive news in that regard, Continue reading

[Webinar] ADA Website Compliance Issues – Best Strategies for Employers

On Tuesday, May 18, 2021 at 1:00 p.m. EST, join Jordan B. Schwartz and Megan S. Shaked for a webinar regarding ADA Website Compliance Issues – Best Strategies for Employers.

CaptureThe pandemic has not decreased the number of lawsuits filed against businesses, hotels, and other places of public accommodation alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Indeed, dozens of lawsuits continue to be filed daily against hotels for their failure to identify and describe accessible features at their properties in sufficient detail on their websites. In a relatively new twist, many of these lawsuits now also allege that hotels are fully liable for the failure of Online Travel Agencies such as Orbitz or Expedia to provide information on their website about the accessible amenities of the hotel, including its guestrooms, or to allow an individual with a disability to book an accessible guestroom.

While many ADA lawsuits also continue to be filed alleging that hotel websites cannot be used by individuals with visual or hearing impairments, there is positive news in that regard, as a recent business-friendly ruling out of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals may make it more difficult for plaintiffs to bring claims against companies for inaccessible websites. That being said, this ruling conflicts with rulings from other circuits that reach the opposite conclusion and thus, a supreme court review of this issue may be brewing. Regardless, it remains important that businesses ensure the accessibility of their websites while also providing an appropriate “accessibility statement” explaining to users the steps you have taken to improve your website’s accessibility.

Unfortunately, there is no sign that ADA lawsuits are slowing down. On the contrary, serial plaintiffs continue to file dozens of these lawsuits each and every day. This presentation will present practical tips and cost-effective strategies for managing the risk of ADA-related litigation in this ever-evolving area of the law.

Participants in this webinar will learn:

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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

Court Concludes That A Business’s Website Does Not Need To Comply With The ADA

New,Technologies,,A,Side,View,Of,An,Open,Laptop,,MillennialsWe have been blogging for more than five years about the rising litigation threat over website accessibility, and the surrounding confusion about what type of compliance, if any, is required.  In our initial blog post on this topic in January 2016, we stated that the question as to whether a business’s website and mobile app needed to be accessible with the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) had no definitive answer at that time because (i) although Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals on the basis of disability with regard to their participation and equal enjoyment in places of public accommodation, the statute did not explicitly define whether a place of public accommodation must be a physical place or facility; (ii) there were no regulations from the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) (the federal agency that enforces Title III of the ADA) regarding website accessibility and without applicable regulations, it was unclear how a court would address a lawsuit over website accessibility; and (iii) adding to this uncertainty, the DOJ had emphasized that, despite the lack of regulations, businesses should make websites accessible to the disabled, and relied on a set of guidelines called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (“WCAG”).

Five years later, this question still has no definitive answer.  And, the DOJ still has yet to promulgate regulations regarding businesses’ obligations to make websites accessible to individuals with visual and hearing impairments.  In April, however, an extremely positive development occurred for businesses when, in the matter of Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores Inc., the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals (which covers Florida, Georgia, and Alabama) held that websites are NOT places of public accommodation and thus are NOT covered by Title III of the ADA.

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Attorney Spotlight – Meet Eric Conn!

Eric J. Conn is a founding partner of Conn Maciel Carey and Chair of the firm’s national OSHA • Workplace Safety Practice Group. For more than twenty years now, Eric’s practice has focused exclusively on issues involving occupational safety and health law.

Before launching his own OSHA Practice, Eric practiced for more than a decade alongside the former first General Counsel of the OSH Review Commission. Eric then became Head of an OSHA practice at a large employment law firm that was honored as the “Occupational Health & Safety Law Firm of the Year” by Corporate INTL Magazine in 2014.

Mr. Conn is a popular speaker on OSHA topics, including as the director of Conn Maciel Carey’s annual OSHA Webinar Series, and he regularly keynotes trade group and industry conferences.  He is also the curator of the firm’s award-winning OSHA Blog, the OSHA Defense Report, and he is often quoted as a leader in the field in trade publications.

Eric and his team of OSHA-specialist attorneys develop safety and health regulatory strategies for employers across all industries with a particular emphasis on:

  • Advising and representing employers through inspections, investigations and enforcement actions involving OSHA and other safety-related agencies
  • Managing the full range of litigation against OSHA
  • Representing employers during U.S. DOJ investigations and prosecutions of alleged OSH Act criminal violations
  • Developing and auditing safety programs and policies
  • Providing workplace safety training and compliance counseling for employers

Get to Know Eric!

Where is your favorite vacation spot?   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. 

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

[Webinar] Withdrawal Liability and Pensions

CaptureOn Wednesday, April 14th at 1:00 P.M. EST, join Mark M. Trapp for a webinar regarding Withdrawal Liability and Pensions.

This webinar will address the significant challenges faced by companies participating in multiemployer plans. Specifically, it will help unionized employers understand and analyze what is often the most critical challenge facing their business – multiemployer pension withdrawal liability. It will also address pension-related provisions of the recently-enacted American Rescue Plan Act.

Participants will learn about the following: Continue reading