Q&As About Fed OSHA’s New COVID-19 Vaccine-Mandate Emergency Rulemaking

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Taskforce

Last Thursday, September 9th, President Biden announced that he is directing OSHA to issue a new Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) that would require many employers to provide paid time for employees to get and recover from getting vaccinated and to implement “soft” vaccine mandates; i.e., require employees either to be fully vaccinated or get weekly COVID-19 testing, as well as issuing new Executive Orders requiring federal contractors to implement “hard” vaccine mandates.

While we anticipated OSHA would reconsider the need for a broader COVID-19 ETS applicable beyond just the healthcare sector in light of the impact of the Delta variant, President Biden’s decision to use a new ETS focused on vaccinations and testing as a central element of his newly unveiled Path Out of the Pandemic – COVID-19 Action Plan raises a host of challenges for employers across the country.  To help our clients and friends in industry prepare for and navigate this emergency rulemaking, we have prepared an extensive list of Q&As about OSHA’s Emergency Rulemaking for a COVID-19 Vaccine-Mandate ETS.  Also, here are links to an article we prepared summarizing OSHA’s new emergency rulemaking, a recording of the webinar about the ETS we conducted last week, and the slides we used.

We understand from our contacts at OSHA that the agency will move much more quickly to prepare and send this ETS to the White House, so it is imperative that the employer community come together now to identify shared concerns and considerations and begin advocating to OSHA and OMB so that this new ETS is one with which industry can reasonably manage.  To that end, Conn Maciel Carey LLP is organizing a coalition of employers and trade groups to advocate for the most reasonable fed OSHA COVID-19 emergency rule focused on vaccination and testing possible.

For several reasons, we believe this emergency rulemaking may be the OSHA rulemaking that has the most opportunity for industry influence that we can recall.  First, Continue reading

Fed OSHA’s New COVID-19 Vaccine-Mandate Emergency Rulemaking [Webinar Recording]

On Sept. 17, 2021, attorneys from Conn Maciel Carey LLP’s COVID-19 Task Force presented a webinar reviewing OSHA’s new COVID-19 emergency rulemaking focused on vaccine and testing mandates for many US employers.

On Sept. 9th, President Biden revealed a new COVID-19 Action Plan with one of several key goals to “Vaccinate the Unvaccinated.” The most notable aspect of that plan is a directive to federal OSHA to develop a 2nd COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard requiring all but small employers in all industries to implement “soft” vaccine mandates; i.e., require employees to either be fully vaccinated or get weekly testing. The President also directed OSHA to include in this new ETS a requirement that employers provide paid time for employees to get vaccinated and recover from ill effects of the vaccine. Separately, the President issued Executive Orders setting “hard” vaccine mandates for federal contractors and healthcare workers.

The President’s announcement was lean on details, and prompted as many questions as it answered. The attorneys from CMC’s OSHA and Employment Law practices discussed our take on the burning questions raised by this latest development on the COVID-19 front: Continue reading

[Bonus Webinar] Fed OSHA’s 2nd COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard: Vaccine and Testing Mandates

Join attorneys from Conn Maciel Carey LLP’s COVID-19 Task Force on Fri., Sept. 17th at 1 PM ET for a webinar reviewing OSHA’s 2nd COVID-19 emergency rulemaking focused on vaccine and testing mandates for many US employers.

On Sept. 9th, Pres. Biden revealed a new COVID-19 Action Plan with one of several key goals to “Vaccinate the Unvaccinated.” The most notable aspect of that plan is a directive to federal OSHA to develop a 2nd COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard requiring all but small employers in all industries to implement “soft” vaccine mandates; i.e., require employees to either be fully vaccinated or get weekly testing. The President also directed OSHA to include in this new ETS a requirement that employers provide paid time for employees to get vaccinated and recover from ill effects of the vaccine. Separately, the President issued Executive Orders setting “hard” vaccine mandates for federal contractors and healthcare workers.

The President’s announcement was lean on details, and prompted as many questions as it answered. Join the attorneys from CMC’s OSHA and Employment Law practices to talk through our take on the burning questions raised by this latest development on the COVID-19 front: Continue reading

Federal OSHA to Issue Another COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard Setting a “Soft” Vaccine-Mandate

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Taskforce

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:

    1. 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.
    2. Between the time OSHA delivered the broad proposed ETS and the time it issued the narrow healthcare-only ETS, the CDC released groundbreaking guidance relaxing COVID-19 protocols for vaccinated individuals.  OSHA’s decision to limit the ETS to just healthcare only a month later had to be influenced by that seismic shift.  But since that time, in July, CDC backtracked on its guidance for vaccinated workers, causing OSHA to adjust its own guidance in that regard.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.

What Happened Yesterday?

Let’s start with the President’s “Path Out of the Pandemic: POTUS COVID-19 Action Plan.” Continue reading

Fed OSHA Updates Its COVID-19 Workplace Guidance – Realigns with CDC on Masks for Vaccinated Workers

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

As we predicted a few week ago, following in CDC’s footsteps, on Friday of last week (August 13, 2021), OSHA updated its primary COVID-19 guidance for non-healthcare employers – Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace to embraces CDC’s updated mask recommendations for vaccinated individuals from July 27th.  OSHA’s updated guidance includes several links directly to CDC’s July Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People, as well as CDC’s COVID-19 Integrated County View Data Trackerwhich depicts levels of county-level community transmission (low, moderate, substantial, or high).

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.

What Changed in OSHA’s Updated COVID-19 Guidance? Continue reading

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

New Guidance Recommends Employers Engage with Employees and Unions to Mitigate COVID-19 in the Workplace

By: Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Taskforce

On June 10th, federal OSHA published significant updates to its principal workplace COVID-19 guidance – Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace.  This was an update to the original version that issued on January 29, 2021 in response to Pres. Biden’s Day 1 OSHA Executive Order, and the first time it has been updated since the COVID-19 vaccines became widely available.

At its core, OSHA’s new guidance was updated to align with CDC’s May 13, 2021 guidance regarding relaxing requirements for vaccinated individuals and advises that, unless otherwise required by another jurisdiction’s laws, rules, or regulations, most employers no longer need to take steps to protect their fully vaccinated workers who are not otherwise at-risk from COVID-19 exposure. 

To the extent workers are not vaccinated or are otherwise at risk, however, OSHA states that employers must continue to implement controls to help protect them, include:

  • separating from the workplace all infected people, all people experiencing COVID symptoms, and any unvaccinated people who have had a close contact with someone with COVID-19
  • implementing physical distancing
  • maintaining ventilation systems, and
  • enforcing the proper use of face coverings or PPE when appropriate.

Importantly, OSHA recommends employers engage with workers and their representatives to determine how to implement multi-layered interventions to protect unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 by taking some combination of these actions:

  • Providing paid time off for employees to get vaccinated.
  • Instructing unvaccinated workers who experience a close contact exposure, and any worker (vaccinated or unvaccinated) who experience COVID-19 symptoms or who are confirmed to be infected to stay home from work.
  • Implementing physical distancing for unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers in all communal work areas.  At fixed workstations where unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers are not able to remain at least 6 feet away from other people, install transparent shields or other solid barriers (e.g., fire resistant plastic sheeting or flexible strip curtains) to separate these workers from other people.
  • Providing unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers with face coverings or surgical masks, unless their work task requires a respirator or other PPE in accordance with relevant mandatory OSHA standards.
  • Training workers on your COVID-19 policies and procedures in formats and languages they understand.
  • “Suggesting” that unvaccinated customers, visitors, or guests wear face coverings, especially in public-facing workplaces such as retail establishments, if there are unvaccinated or at-risk workers there who are likely to interact with them.
  • Maintaining existing ventilation systems.
  • Performing routine cleaning and disinfection.
  • Recording and reporting COVID-19 infections and deaths. 
  • Setting up an anonymous process for workers to voice concerns about COVID-19-related hazards.
  • Implementing protections against retaliation.

The recommendation that employers engage with workers and their representatives (such as labor unions) will likely spur requests to meet and negotiate over what the employer is doing to implement these steps, and the recommendation to have an anonymous process for workers to voice concerns about COVID-19 hazards could lead to a rise of internal investigations and workplace responses. 

While OSHA does make clear that its updated guidance is not a standard or regulation, and it creates no new legal obligations, OSHA does specifically reference its enforcement authority under the OSH Act’s General Duty Clause.  Thus, as more employers increase their efforts to safety return their employees to the workplace this Summer and Fall, it would be prudent for employers to review the recommendations set forth in OSHA’s guidance and update their policies and procedures, including training of employees, accordingly. 

[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.

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

What Employers Need to Know About COVID-19 Vaccines [Webinar Recording]

On February 11th, Kara M. MacielFern Fleischer-Daves and Lindsay A. DiSalvo presented a webinar regarding What Employers Need to Know About COVID-19 Vaccine.Capture

In December 2020, two COVID-19 vaccines received emergency use authorization from the US government and several more vaccines may be approved in the coming months. In the initial phases, front-line health care workers, nursing home residents, persons over 75 years of age, and others with underlying health conditions were given first priority. Many employers want to have their “essential workers” or all of their workers vaccinated as soon as possible.

During this webinar, Conn Maciel Carey’s OSHA and Labor & Employment attorneys discussed these important questions:

Continue reading