Employee requests for medical and/or religious accommodations in the workplace are not new. However, never before have these accommodation requests been such a hot-button topic, nor have these accommodation requests been used so frequently (and in particular, religious accommodation requests). The imposition of COVID-19 vaccine mandates has changed that, particularly with regard to religious accommodation requests, which has become the ultimate “gray area,” as both employers and employees alike have learned that sincerely held religious belief can include an employee’s religious-based objection to vaccinations. As a result, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has issued guidance regarding the obligations of employers under Title VII when an employee presents with a religious objection to a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy, which actually builds upon prior EEOC guidance regarding COVID-19 vaccinations in the employment context. Thus, there are multiple issues that employers need to keep in mind and juggle when addressing these vaccination accommodation requests.
Participants in this webinar learned how to best deal with such requests by their employees, including: Continue reading →
As governors and big city mayors across the country have been allowing indoor masking mandates to expire over the last few weeks, last Friday, February 25th, the CDC unveiled a brand new approach to assessing COVID-19 risks and setting mask and distancing recommendations. The CDC’s old tool, which measured the number of COVID-19 cases to determine the relevant level of virus transmission in each community had lost its usefulness as it rendered nearly the entire country as high-risk (95% of all counties), even as the number of people getting seriously ill had dropped precipitously this year.
CDC’s new guidelines measure the impact the pandemic by looking at three factors week over week:
New cases per capita (as with the prior guidelines; but also
New COVID-19 related hospital admissions; and
The percentage of area hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients.
Each county will have a weekly “COVID Community Level Rating” that is either Low (green), Medium (yellow) or High (orange). Each level/color has recommended mitigation strategies, set in the table below:
Here is a link to CDC’s tool to identify the level of COVID-19 transmission in your county.
2022 brings changes for California employers to a range of topics touching on traditional employment law matters as well as health and safety concerns, including related to COVID-19. This webinar will review compliance obligations for companies doing business in California, as well as discuss the practical impact of these new laws and best practices for avoiding potential employment-related claims.
It has been a real adventure trying to track all the different legal challenges in so many different courts to President Biden’s various different executive actions related to vaccination. While the fate of the OSHA Vaccinate-or-Test ETS (dead) and the CMC Healthcare Vaccine-Mandate (very much alive) are essentially settled by the Supreme Court, the Federal Contractor Vaccine-Mandate Executive Order (EO 14042) is still meandering its way through the federal courts. And there was a lot of activity in the courts this past Friday, January 21st, regarding the federal contractor EO and the federal employee vaccination mandate.
In the first case, Feds for Medical Freedom v. Biden, employees of federal contractors and employees of the federal government together are challenging both Executive Orders 14042 (vaccine-mandate for federal contractors) and 14043 (vaccine-mandate for federal employees). Judge Jeffrey V. Brown (a Trump-appointee to the S.D. of Texas) issued an opinion and order enjoining only enforcement of the federal employee mandate. Judge Brown’s reasoning in that case boiled down to a conclusion that injunctive relief is appropriate because: (1) the “Hobson’s Choice” of a workplace vaccine-mandate creates irreparable harm; and (2) the challenging federal employees have a likelihood of success on the merits because the President acted ultra vires and the implementation of EO 14043 violates the Administrative Procedures Act. Notably, Judge Brown declined to take action with regard to the federal contractor EO, noting that Judge R. Stan Baker (a Trump appointee to the S.D. of Georgia) in Georgia v. Biden had previously enjoined the federal government from enforcing the vaccination mandate on a nationwide basis.
While Judge Brown’s decision in Feds for Medical Freedom v. Biden did not change the status of the federal contractor EO, on the same day, Judge Baker issued a new order with regard to the injunction he had put in place in Georgia v. Biden in December. First, Judge Baker declined to address whether private federal contractors are enjoined from mutually agreeing with a federal agency to include COVID-19 safety clauses in their contracts; i.e., to voluntarily comply with the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force (“Task Force”) guidelines, as he viewed that as improperly seeking an advisory opinion while the case is pending on appeal. But on the broader question as to the scope of his national injunction, on Friday he wrote: Continue reading →
The Q&A document addresses the current status of the ETS and the legal challenges to it, who is covered and who is exempted from the rule, the core elements of the ETS (i.e., what is required and prohibited by the ETS, when the requirements kick-in), and other issues around enforcement and compliance strategy.
In addition to this FAQ resource, we have also been working with dozens of companies to help them develop custom, compliant written COVID-19 Vaccination, Testing, and Face Coverings Policies, along with the necessary ancillary forms, as required by the ETS. We have a questionnaire that we can work through with you to understand and make the best policy choices for your organization (e.g., what cap you will set for paid recovery time; whether to supply test kits to employees or require them to take tests offsite; how you will communicate to employees the information required to be shared; etc.), and with those answers, we develop a customized written program including: Continue reading →
For those of you with establishments in New York City, note that this week, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Commissioner of Health and Mental Hygiene issued a private employer vaccine mandate, and yesterday published this implementation guidance for employers.
The key provisions of the mandate include:
1. Beginning December 27, 2021, workers must provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19 to a covered entity before entering the workplace, and a covered entity must exclude from the workplace any worker who has not provided such proof, unless they are provided an accommodation for a disability or religious reason.
“Covered entity” means:
a non-governmental entity that employs more than one worker in New York City or maintains a workplace in New York City; or
a self-employed individual or a sole practitioner who works at a workplace or interacts with workers or the public in the course of their business.
“Worker” means an individual who works in-person in New York City at a workplace. Worker includes a full- or part-time staff member, employer, employee, intern, volunteer or contractor of a covered entity, as well as a self-employed individual or a sole practitioner.
Worker does not include:
an individual who works from their own home and whose employment does not involve interacting in-person with co-workers or members of the public;
an individual who enters the workplace for a quick and limited purpose (such as to use the bathroom, make a delivery, or clocking in and receiving an assignment before leaving to begin a solitary assignment); or
non-City residents who are performing artists, college or professional athletes, or individuals accompanying such performing artists or college or professional athletes who do not have to display proof of vaccination pursuant to the Key to NYC program, Emergency Executive Order No. 316 and successor Orders.
“Workplace” means any location, including a vehicle, where work is performed in the presence of another worker or member of the public.
“Proof of vaccination” means one of the following documents demonstrating that an individual has (1) been fully vaccinated against COVID-19; (2) received one dose of a single-dose COVID-19 vaccine; or (3) received the first dose of a two dose COVID-19 vaccine, provided that a worker providing proof of only such first dose provides proof of receiving the second dose of that vaccine within 45 days after receiving the first dose:
A CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card or other official immunization record from the jurisdiction, city, state, or country where the vaccine was administered, or from a healthcare provider or other approved immunizer who administered the vaccine, that provides the person’s name, vaccine brand, and date of administration. A digital photo or photocopy of such record is also acceptable.
New York City COVID Safe App showing a vaccination record;
A valid New York State Excelsior Pass/Excelsior Pass Plus;
CLEAR Health Pass; or
Any other method specified by the Commissioner as sufficient to demonstrate proof of vaccination.
2. Workers in New York City who perform in-person work or interact with the public in the course of business must show proof they have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by December 27th.
Workers will then have 45 days to show proof of their second dose (for Pfizer or Moderna vaccines).
As the OSHA COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing emergency temporary standard (“ETS”) works its way through the courts in pending legal challenges, employers are still scrambling to position themselves in the event the ETS goes back into effect. (Review our Employer Defense Report and OSHA Defense Report for full background on the ETS and the most recent updates on its current status.) A key issue to consider is the cost of testing.
Should the ETS go back into effect, employers with 100 or more employees must implement a program to facilitate (1) a COVID-19 vaccination requirement for all employees (known as a “hard mandate”) or (2) a combination of a COVID-19 vaccination requirement and weekly testing, plus face covering requirement, for those employees who choose not to get vaccinated (known as a “soft mandate”). Under this soft-vaccine mandate, an employee may only report to the workplace after demonstrating either: proof of being fully vaccinated; or for employees who do not get vaccinated or decline to share their vaccination status, proof of a negative COVID-19 test result from within the last week. Employees who are not fully vaccinated must also wear face coverings when indoors and when occupying a vehicle with another person for work purposes.
Yesterday, September 9th, President Biden issued new Executive Orders requiring federal contractors and healthcare employers to implement “hard” vaccine mandates, and directed federal OSHA to issue a new Emergency Temporary Standard that would require many employers to provide paid time for employees to get vaccinated and recover from the vaccine, and to implement “soft” vaccine mandates; i.e., require employees to either be fully vaccinated or get weekly COVID-19 testing.
The push now for a broader COVID-19 ETS applicable beyond just healthcare is a step for which we have been bracing for a while now. In June, when OSHA issued its COVID-19 ETS that was limited only to the healthcare industry, the vast majority of employers dodged the bullet, but since the explosion of new cases because of the Delta variant, we began to see that bullet more as a boomerang, likely to come back around for the rest of industry. Here are five signals we picked up that OSHA was likely to revisit its decision in June to limit its COVID-19 ETS to only healthcare employers:
The rate of community transmission and COVID-19 deaths around the country has returned to the level we were experiencing in the Spring of this year when OSHA delivered to OMB a proposed ETS that was written to cover all industries. To the extent the decline in cases and deaths was a major factor in OSHA’s decision to limit the ETS to just healthcare, that factor no longer cuts in favor of a healthcare-only rule.
Since issuing the ETS for healthcare, OSHA has been under pressure from national unions and worker advocacy groups to expand the ETS to all industries, both in the form of written comments during the ETS’s post-issuance comment period and a lawsuit filed by AFL-CIO challenging OSHA’s decision to limit the ETS to just healthcare.
There has been a growing tension between the Biden Administration and certain Republican governors, particular DeSantis in Florida and Abbott in Texas, around mask and vaccine mandates. The Biden Administration could resolve that tension by issuing a specific federal OSHA regulation setting requirements for masking and vaccinations, which would likely preempt conflicting state laws.
The White House has changed its tune about strict COVID-19 protocols and vaccine mandates dramatically since the OSHA ETS was issued. The Administration’s decision to limit the ETS to healthcare only was likely at least partially politically-motivated; i.e., a broad ETS was too unpopular due to the massive decline in COVID-19 cases and deaths. However, we have started to see President Biden take politically risky moves around vaccinations; e.g., reinstituting mask recommendations for vaccinated individuals and setting a “soft” mandate for federal workers and contractors and encouraging industry to set similar mandates. If the politics of aggressive COVID-19 requirements influenced OSHA’s decision to issue a narrow rule in June, it appears the Administration has changed its political calculation in the face of the spread of the Delta variant surge.
Those were the main signals we saw that kept us up at night worried OSHA would deliver to OMB a new or amended COVID-19 ETS that would apply to all industries. But President Biden’s announcements yesterday sent the strongest signal yet that we will soon see further regulatory action from federal OSHA on the COVID-19 front. A lot of questions remain, and we expect those to be answered in time as the new rules take effect, but we wanted to share with you what we know so far, as well as our preliminary thoughts/speculation about some of those questions.
Broadly, OSHA’s updated COVID-19 guidance tracks CDC’s updated guidance closely. For example, OSHA now recommends that:
Fully vaccinated workers in areas of substantial or high community transmission wear masks in order to protect unvaccinated workers; and
Fully vaccinated workers everywhere in the country who experience a close contact exposure with a COVID-19 case wear a mask for 14 days or until they receive a negative COVID test taken at least 3 days after the contact.
Additionally, the guidance clarifies OSHA’s recommendations for protecting unvaccinated workers and other at-risk workers in “workplaces with heightened risk due to workplace environmental factors,” including those in manufacturing, meat and poultry processing, seafood processing and agricultural processing.
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:
total new cases per 100,000 persons over the past seven days; and