Biden Administration Signals that the Federal Contractor Vaccine Mandate May Go Into Effect, But Not Yet

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

On Friday, October 14th, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force (Task Force) issued some “clarifications” about the expected next steps for Executive Order 14042 – the federal contractor vaccine mandate – now that the longstanding nationwide injunction restricting enforcement of the E.O. has been narrowed by order of the Eleventh Circuit.  That narrowing (to just the six States that were named parties to the legal challenge in Georgia v. Biden) took effect on October 18th.  OMB and the Task Force suggested that we would see at least three new guidance documents now that the injunction is narrowed, including:

    1. OMB would give notice to federal agencies about compliance with applicable injunctions, and also whether, where and when the new clause implementing Executive Order 14042 should be included in new solicitations and contracts.
    2. The Safer Federal Workforce Task Force would update its COVID-19 guidance for covered contractor workplaces, including a timeline for implementation.  Last week’s clarification specified that this “updated guidance [by the Task Force] will be issued following development and review by the Task Force, subject to the OMB Director’s approval and determination published in the Federal Register that the updated guidance promotes economy and efficiency in Federal contracting, in accordance with Executive Order 14042.”
    3. After the updated Task Force guidance issues, and if the OMB Director makes a determination that implementation of the E.O. in some form continues to promote economy and efficiency in federal contracting , then OMB would provide additional guidance to agencies on timing and considerations for provision of written notice from agencies to contractors regarding enforcement.

On October 19th (the day after the 11th Circuit’s narrowing of the nationwide injunction took effect), OMB did issue one of the notices we were expecting. Continue reading

OSHA Updates Its Severe Violator Enforcement Program to Sweep In Exponentially More Employers

By Eric J. Conn and Ashley D. Mitchell

On September 15, 2022, OSHA announced a significant set of updates to its dreaded Severe Violator Enforcement Program (“SVEP”), the first update to the program in over a decade. In a Press Release accompanying the update, Doug Parker, the Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, explained:

The Severe Violator Enforcement Program empowers OSHA to sharpen its focus on employers who – even after receiving citations for exposing workers to hazardous conditions and serious dangers – fail to mitigate these hazards . . . . Today’s expanded criteria reflect the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to ensuring OSHA has the tools it needs to ensure employers protect their workers or hold them accountable when they fail to provide safe and healthy workplaces.

Two of the three SVEP-qualifying criteria have not changed, and they are:

  1. Fatality/Catastrophe Criterion – A fatality/catastrophe inspection where OSHA finds at least one willful or repeated violation or issues a failure-to-abate notice based on a serious violation directly related either to an employee death or three or more employee hospitalizations.
  2. Egregious Criterion – All egregious enforcement actions (i.e., per-instance citations).

But historically, the principal way that employers “qualified” into SVEP was by enforcement actions that included 2+ willful or repeat violations related to a particular set of standards that represented “high emphasis hazards.” Indeed, that criteria has accounted for more than 70% of all SVEP-qualifying citations. Those “high emphasis hazards” essentially reflected the subjects of OSHA’s active enforcement National Emphasis Programs, including:

  • Fall Hazards in all industries
  • Amputation Hazards covered by Lockout/Tagout and Machine Guarding standards
  • Combustible Dust Hazards
  • Crystalline Silica Hazards
  • Lead Hazards
  • Grain Handling Hazards
  • Excavation/Trenching Hazards

The most important change in the updated SVEP is that Continue reading

New Twist in the Federal Contractor COVID-19 Vaccine-Mandate Saga

By Conn Maciel Carey LLP’s COVID-19 Task Force

In case anyone has forgotten, there are still a few COVID-19 vaccine mandates out there that the Supreme Court has not struck down.  There are the federal employee and military vaccine mandates, and for private employers, the federal contractor vaccine-mandate.  The federal contractor mandate arose from Pres. Biden’s Executive Order 14042, which directed executive agencies to include a clause in procurement agreements requiring employees who work on or in connection with a covered federal contract, or who even share a workplace with another employee who does, to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.  

You may have forgotten about that federal contractor vaccine mandate because that requirement has been the subject of nationwide temporary injunction for the last nine months, following a decision in December 2021 by a federal district court judge in Georgie in a legal challenge captioned Georgia v. Biden, one of several legal challenges to the Biden Administration’s authority to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine through the 1949 Federal Property and Administrative Services Act (aka the Procurement Act).  The district court judge in Georgia v. Biden entered a nationwide preliminary injunction after concluding that the plaintiff States and one trade association were likely to prevail on their assertion that the mandate was outside the scope of the Procurement Act. The judge ordered the federal government not to enforce the mandate in any covered agreement, and several other federal courts have also imposed other, though narrower, restrictions on EO 14042.  Since then, the Administration has shelved the vaccine requirement for federal contractors. 

A lot of water has also passed under the bridge since that time, and the COVID-19 landscape has changed pretty significantly.  Most notably, the CDC recently updated its COVID-19 guidance in several ways, but most relevant to the federal contractor vaccine mandate, the CDC now no longer distinguishes between vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals for how COVID-19 controls should apply.  For example, quarantine and isolation requirements are perfectly aligned for fully vaccinated, partially vaccinated, and completely unvaccinated individuals.  The rationale for the new relaxed guidance from Pres. Biden’s CDC is that there are now “so many tools available to use for reducing COVID-19 severity, [so] there is significantly less risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death compared to earlier in the pandemic.”  That rationale would seemingly undermine the original purpose of the federal contractor vaccine mandate – ensuring “economy and efficiency” of the federal procurement system by ensuring the health of the contracting workforce.

Nevertheless, the Administration has continued to defend the federal contractor vaccine mandate as the legal challenges to EO 14042 have moved through the court system.  The latest development in that litigation came in yet another Friday night COVID-19 surprise, Continue reading

What Employers Need To Know About the Latest Public Health Crisis – The Monkeypox Virus

By Eric J. Conn and Ashley D. Mitchell

After the last couple of years living with COVID-19, we were desperately hoping that we would not have to be talking, thinking or writing about the Monkeypox Virus (“MPV”) as a workplace safety and health issue.  And while Monkeypox does NOT appear to be a COVID-19 redux, we have been getting enough questions from our clients that it now seems unavoidable that we have to dig into this.  Alas, here is our first take on Monkeypox – what is it, what are the symptoms and modes of transmission, how is it similar to and different from COVID-19, and what should employers be thinking about and doing in connection with this latest plague.

The Monkeypox Virus (MPV):

Monkeypox is a zoonotic diseases, which means it is caused by a virus that is passed between animals & people.  MPV was first detected in 1958 in a colony of research monkeys in Central and West Africa, and the first human case of Monkeypox was recorded in 1970.  The virus that causes Monkeypox is in the same family as the virus that causes smallpox, and they involve similar, but less severe symptoms in the case of MPV.

The current Monkeypox outbreak is unique in that prior to 2022, Monkeypox cases were extremely rare in the U.S., and cases in individuals outside of Africa, where the virus commonly occurs, were almost always linked to international travel.  In mid-May of this year, the first cases associated with the current outbreak were identified in the U.S., and it is clearly spreading now among non-travelers.  On July 23rd, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Monkeypox a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). By late July, the U.S. surpassed 10,000 total cases. Continue reading

Update on the Timeline for OSHA to Finalize the Permanent COVID Rule for Healthcare

It’s been a while since our last update about OSHA’s rulemaking for the permanent COVID-19 rule for healthcare, which is very good news.  It was always a possibility that by the time OSHA got around to finalizing and issuing its permanent COVID-19 regulation that the pandemic would be in such a state that it would not make any practical, health, or political sense to actually issue the rule.  But that does not appear to be OSHA’s thinking right now, or the thinking of the DC Circuit and the nurses unions that continue to push OSHA to finalize the rule.

According to a sworn statement by Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Doug Parker on July 25, 2022, OSHA remains “on track” to complete its long-term COVID-19 safety healthcare standard in September to October of 2022.  This is consistent with OSHA’s January 2022 statement that it intended to develop a permanent COVID-19 standard for healthcare workers within six to nine months.

Assistant Secretary Parker’s statement appears to be a reaction to inconsistent testimony from Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh before the Senate Appropriations Committee on June 15, 2022.  There, Secretary Walsh testified that OSHA would finalize the standard in three to six months, which sounded like a shift in OSHA’s target issuance date to later in the year or even next year.  Continue reading

The Employers E-Recordkeeping Coalition Submits Comprehensive Written Comments to OSHA’s E-Recordkeeping Rulemaking Docket

By Eric J. Conn, Chair of Conn Maciel Carey’s national OSHA Practice

On March 30th, OSHA published a new proposed rule to amend and dramatically expand the requirements of its “Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses Rule” (aka, the E-Recordkeeping Rule).  We digested the tortured history of OSHA’s E-Recordkeeping Rule, the proposed amendments OSHA introduced this Spring, and the implications of the proposed changes in this article.

Conn Maciel Carey’s OSHA Team organized a flat fee-based E-Recordkeeping Rulemaking Coalition of employers and trade groups to collaborate to submit public comments on this proposal and otherwise participate in the rulemaking process to advocate for the most manageable possible E-Recordkeeping Rule.  The first major step taken by our Employers E-Recordkeeping Coalition was to submit a comprehensive set of written comments to OSHA’s rulemaking record on June 30th.  Here is a copy of our as-filed comments.

To summarize, we addressed in the comments that: Continue reading

OSHA’S Top Regulatory Priorities… Other than COVID-19

By Eric J. Conn, Chair, Conn Maciel Carey’s national OSHA Practice

In the June/July issue of Tank Storage Magazine, Eric J. Conn, Founding Partner and Chair of Conn Maciel Carey LLP’s OSHA • Workplace Safety Practice Group, looks at recent changes in OSHA’s regulatory policies in the article, “OSHA’S Top Regulatory Priorities…Other than COVID-19.”

Here is a summary of his observations.

The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has not slowed it rulemaking activities despite the attention COVID-19 has demanded over the past two years. In just the past six months, OSHA has:

  1. Published a notice of proposed regulation to expand its Electronic Recordkeeping Rule;
  2. Initiated an enforcement National Emphasis Program to address Heat Illness; and
  3. Launched rulemaking for an Outdoor and Indoor Heat Illness Prevention standard.

OSHA’S Rulemaking to Expand the E-Recordkeeping Rule

OSHA’s Standard To Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses (aka, the E-Recordkeeping Rule) has experienced Continue reading

OSHA Grants Request to Extend the Comment Period for the Proposed Amended E-Recordkeeping Rule

By Eric J. Conn, Chair of CMC’s National OSHA Practice

On March 30th, OSHA published a proposal to dramatically expand the requirements of its Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses Rule (aka the E-Recordkeeping Rule).  Read our full article here for more information about the history of E-Recordkeeping, the new proposed amendments to the E-Recordkeeping Rule, and the implications of the proposed changes.

In short, the proposed changes to the E-Recordkeeping Rule would:

  1. Replace the current requirement for all workplaces with 250+ employees to annually submit to OSHA’s electronic Injury Tracking Application the data from their 300A Annual Summary of work-related injuries, with a new requirement for workplaces with 100+ employees in the “high hazard industries” listed in new Appendix B to submit the full panoply of OSHA recordkeeping records – i.e., OSHA Forms 300 (the OSHA Log), 301 (detailed incident reports for each recorded injury), and the 300A Annual Summary;
  2. Require workplaces with 20+ employees in another larger list of so-called “high-hazard industries” (new Appendix A) to submit the data from their 300As; and
  3. Compel all submitting employers to include their proper company name with the electronic data submissions.

That Federal Register Notice set the deadline for stakeholders to submit comments for Tuesday, May 31 — the day after Memorial Day and one week after the deadline to submit post-hearing comments about OSHA’s proposed Permanent COVID-19 Standard for Healthcare.  Because of that crowded schedule and the importance of the proposed changes to the E-Recordkeeping Rule, last week, on behalf of Conn Maciel Carey’s Employers E-Recordkeeping Rulemaking Coalition, we prepared and filed a Letter to OSHA Requesting an Extension of the Comment Period. Continue reading

OSHA Conducts Comprehensive Heat Illness Prevention Stakeholder Meeting

By Beeta B. Lashkari and Eric J. Conn

On Tuesday, May 3, 2022, OSHA held a virtual stakeholder meeting to discuss and receive public input about OSHA’s various initiatives designed to protect workers from heat-related hazards.  Below is a summary of the stakeholder meeting, as well as the comments we presented on behalf of our Employers Heat Illness Prevention Coalition.  If you would like to view the entire meeting, or view the agenda or some of the heat illness-related materials OSHA made available, they are available on OSHA’s Heat Forum Public Stakeholder Meeting website.

The meeting ran for approx. 6 hours (from noon to 6 PM).  More than 3,000 stakeholders signed up for the meeting, and more than 500 people requested to speak, including OSHA representatives, an OSHA leadership panel, and four batches of public comment.  Public commenters were each allotted a strictly enforced 3-minute window to speak.

Opening Remarks from Heads of DOL/OSHA

The Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, Doug Parker, kicked off the meeting with opening remarks.  Mr. Parker began by explaining that heat-related hazards do not Continue reading

11th Cir. Hears Oral Argument in Challenge to Biden’s EO for a Federal Contractor COVID-19 Vaccine-Mandate

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

This past Friday, April 8, 2022, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit heard oral argument in Georgia v. Biden, one of the legal challenges to President Biden’s Executive Order imposing a hard vaccine-mandate on federal contractors.  This was the first of several challenges to the federal contractor vaccination mandate to be heard at the US Court of Appeals level, and this particular challenge reaches the 11th Circuit with a rare nationwide temporary injunction imposed at the district court level.

There’s a link to the recording of the 11th Circuit argument on this page – https://www.ca11.uscourts.gov/oral-argument-recordings.  Scroll down to docket number 21-14269.  The recording is difficult to load, it stops and starts, and the sound quality is uneven, so if you don’t want to subject yourself to that, here is a summary of the argument and our best effort to read the tea leaves.

During this hearing, the three-judge panel was most interested in two aspects of the dispute: Continue reading

Virginia OSHA Rescinds Its “Permanent” COVID-19 Rule and Introduces New Workplace Guidance

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Under the direction of then-Democratic Governor Ralph Northam, the Commonwealth of Virginia was the very first U.S. State to implement a broad, all-industry programmatic COVID-19 emergency temporary standard (“ETS”) way back in July 2020.  Through all the fits and starts with federal OSHA’s COVID-19 rulemaking, VOSH’s COVID-19 regulation was a consistent presence through most of the pandemic.  Indeed, that ETS was made “permanent” in January 2021, months before federal OSHA had even adopted its COVID-19 ETS for Healthcare.

However, on his first day in office – January 15, 2022 – new Virginia Governor Glenn Younkin signed an Executive Order directing the Virginia Safety and Health Codes Board (“Board”) to determine whether there was a continuing need for these regulations (with more than a little pressure from the Governor’s office to conclude it was not).  Not surprisingly, under that political pressure, and in the wake of the Supreme Court’s harsh decision about federal OSHA’s authority to regulate COVID-19, by mid-February, the Board had adopted the position of the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry (“DOLI”) that “based on emerging scientific and medical evidence, [COVID-19] no longer constitute[s] a grave danger to employees in the workplace.”

That Board finding started a 30-day clock for public notice and comment about the Board’s intention to repeal the rule, and as expected, the Board voted on March 21st to rescind the ETS (effective March 23rd, 2022).

So where does that leave Virginia employers?  Continue reading

OSHA’s Rulemaking to Expand the Electronic Recordkeeping Rule

By Eric J. Conn

Who else misses the time when OSHA would issue a new regulation only once every decade or so?!?!  Alas, OSHA has been quite busy the last few months on the rulemaking front, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.  You’ve heard a lot from us about the various COVID-19 rulemaking efforts – two emergency standards and a new effort to make permanent the COVID-19 standard for healthcare.  Now, OSHA has turned its attention to a more traditional OSHA subject – injury and illness recordkeeping.

Specifically, on March 30th, OSHA published a new proposed rule to dramatically expand the requirements of its Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses Rule; i.e., the Electronic Recordkeeping Rule.

Background on OSHA’s E-Recordkeeping Requirements

OSHA first issued regulations requiring that employers record occupational injuries and illnesses in 1971.  Pursuant to 29 CFR 1904.7, employers must keep records of work-related injuries and illnesses that involve death, loss of consciousness, days away from work, restricted work or transfer to another job, medical treatment beyond first aid, or diagnosis of a significant injury or illness by a physician or other licensed health care professional.  Additional requirements were added for Reporting of Fatality and Multiple Hospitalization Incidents, and later, in 2014, OSHA expanded the types of incidents that had to be reported to OSHA; i.e., a single in-patient hospitalization, amputations, and losses of an eye. (79 FR 56130)

In 2016 (amended in 2018), annual electronic injury recordkeeping data submissions to OSHA became mandatory both for establishments with 250 or more employees, and establishments with 20-249 employees in certain designated industries.  The current version of the E-Recordkeeping Rule has undergone some changes and revisions, and indeed, as we have chronicled in the past,  the E-Recordkeeping Rule has had a long and tortured history.  Before promulgation of the E-Recordkeeping Rule, unless OSHA opened an enforcement inspection at an employer’s workplace or the Bureau of Labor Statistics requested an employer’s participation in its annual injury data survey, employer injury and illness recordkeeping data was maintained internally by employers. In a major policy shift, in 2016, President Obama’s OSHA enacted the E-Recordkeeping Rule, requiring hundreds of thousands of workplaces to proactively submit injury and illness data to OSHA through OSHA’s Injury Tracking Application (“ITA”).  More specifically, the 2016 E-Recordkeeping Rule required: Continue reading

BREAKING – OSHA Reopens Rulemaking for a Permanent COVID-19 Standard for Healthcare (Expanded Scope)

By Conn Maciel Carey LLP’s COVID-19 Task Force

After OSHA just recently initiated a three-month COVID-19 focused enforcement blitz targeting the healthcare industry, earlier this week, on March 22nd, OSHA announced that it has officially reopened the rulemaking record for a “permanent” COVID-19 standard applicable to the healthcare industry, and perhaps now some industries tangentially related to healthcare.

OSHA will accept comments on the proposed permanent standard through April 22, 2022, and has scheduled a public hearing on the rulemaking for April 27th.

Below we provide some important background and recommendations on next steps to ensure the healthcare industry and other potentially impacted employers maximize this opportunity to influence the direction and outcome of the permanent COVID-19 rulemaking.

Importantly, we also identify below a potential major expansion of the scope of coverage of the standard that OSHA is contemplating.  OSHA is explicitly considering eliminating the coverage exemption that had been included in the COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard for Healthcare (the ETS) for those ambulatory care, non-hospital settings where some healthcare services are provided, but that screen individuals for COVID-19 before entry and prevent COVID-19 infected individuals from entering. If that exemption is not carried forward from the ETS into the permanent standard, then general industry manufacturers that have medical clinics onsite; dental and other doctors’ offices; retail pharmacies; etc. will be pulled into coverage under the permanent standard; i.e., any employer that operates any type of facility where any form of healthcare services are provided could be regulated by the permanent standard.  It is imperative, therefore, that potentially impacted employers participate in this rulemaking.

Why is OSHA Partially Reopening the Rulemaking? Continue reading

BREAKING – OSHA Launches New COVID-19 Enforcement Blitz for Healthcare Employers

By Conn Maciel Carey LLP’s COVID-19 Task Force

On Tuesday, March 8th, OSHA announced a major COVID-19 enforcement blitz in the healthcare industry that will last for the next three months.  OSHA issued an enforcement memorandum announcing the enforcement program, which OSHA is referring to as a major “saturation effort,” to ensure that hospitals and others in the healthcare industry have appropriate COVID-19 mitigation protocols in place to protect workers today and are prepared for a future variant.  The program will be comprised of a short-term burst of highly-focused inspections directed at hospitals and skilled nursing care facilities that treat COVID-19 patients.  Below is a summary of who is covered, when the enforcement effort will end, the impact on State OSH Plans, and what to expect during the inspections.

OSHA states that the goal of this inspection program is to expand its presence to ensure continued mitigation of the spread of COVID-19 and preparation for future variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and to protect the health and safety of healthcare workers at heightened risk for contracting the virus.  New Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Doug Parker stated:

“We are using available tools while we finalize a healthcare standard….  We want to be ahead of any future events in healthcare.”

OSHA plans to conduct as many as 1,000-1,500 inspections in the next 90 days to determine whether hospital and other healthcare workers are being adequately protected from COVID-19 spread at work.  The inspections will last 2-4 days and will focus on what had been the major elements of OSHA’s COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard for Healthcare.  The OSHA resources designated for this enforcement blitz and the revised COVID-19 National Emphasis Program (NEP) will comprise at least 15% of OSHA’s enforcement activity for the year.

Who is Covered by the Enforcement Effort?

The initiative supplements OSHA’s targeted enforcement under the Revised COVID-19 NEP [DIR 2021-03 (CPL 03)], by conducting focused, partial follow-up and monitoring inspections of previously inspected or investigated hospitals and skilled nursing care facilities within four North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes listed in the enforcement memorandum, where COVID-19 citations or Hazard Alert Letters were issued, including remote-only inspections where COVID-19-related citations were issued.  Specifically, facilities in the four NAICS codes listed below may be selected for inspections under the initiative if they meet one of the following criteria: Continue reading

VOSH Begins the Process of Withdrawing its “Permanent” COVID-19 Rule

By Conn Maciel Carey LLP’s COVID-19 Task Force

Last Wednesday (February 16th), at the direction of Virginia’s new Governor, Virginia OSHA’s Safety and Health Codes Board voted to withdraw VOSH’s COVID-19 Regulation. The Board’s vote came after VOSH recommended that COVID-19 no longer constituted a “grave danger,” the legal showing required to justify an emergency rule.  Procedurally, the board vote was just the first step. Next is a 30-day public comment period, followed by a public hearing, then a final Board vote. If the measure is in fact repealed after the final Board vote, then Virginia employers would no longer have to require employees who work indoors to wear a face covering,; social distance; provide employee training; improve or maintain ventilation systems; or inform the VA Department of Health about outbreaks.

Although this move comes in lock step with Friday’s CDC announcement that it is rescinding mask guidance, along with other states like California and New Jersey rescinding their mask mandate, on January 15th Virginia’s newly elected Governor Glenn Youngkin issued an Executive Order instructing the Board to Continue reading

CDC Relaxes Face Covering and Distancing Guidelines

By Conn Maciel Carey LLP’s COVID-19 Task Force

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:

  1. New cases per capita (as with the prior guidelines; but also
  2. New COVID-19 related hospital admissions; and
  3. 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.

The big news is that CDC recommends Continue reading

OSHA Withdraws Its Vaccinate-or-Test ETS, But Continues Rulemaking for Two Permanent COVID-19 Rules

By Conn Maciel Carey LLP’s COVID-19 Task Force

Earlier today, January 26, 2022, OSHA published in the Federal Register a Notice of Withdrawal of its COVID-19 Vaccination, Testing, and Face Covering ETS.  After the Supreme Court’s January 13th decision in Nat’l Fed’n of Indep. Bus. v. Dep’t of Labor reinstituting the Stay of the ETS, the writing was on the wall for OSHA’s vaccinate-or-test ETS, but today’s announcement made it official.  The Notice of Withdrawal does not call for comment, as it is “impracticable, unnecessary, and contrary to the public interest.”  OSHA further explained that it would unnecessarily delay the resolution of ambiguity for employers and workers.  So that’s that for the Vaccinate-or-Test ETS, effective immediately.

Nevertheless, this dead horse may be in store for some more beating.  As you know, the day the ETS was published in the Federal Register back in November, pursuant to Sec. 6(c)(3) of the OSH Act, it became the “proposed rule” in a rulemaking that automatically kicked off to establish a permanent replacement vaccinate-or-test standard.  In OSHA’s other big announcement today, the agency indicated that it has not withdrawn that rulemaking.  Rather, OSHA declared its intent to move forward with a permanent rulemaking.

This was yet another fascinating development in this roller coaster.  While we anticipated that OSHA would withdraw the vaccinate-or-test ETS to avoid having a full merits adjudication by the Supreme Court that would establish more concrete precedent narrowing OSHA’s rulemaking authority, we continue to be surprised to see that OSHA is continuing on with the permanent rulemaking.

Recall that the Supreme Court did not say that OSHA’s ETS exceeded the agency’s emergency rulemaking authority.  Rather, the Court found that Continue reading

The Latest with Pres. Biden’s Federal Contractor COVID-19 Vaccine-Mandate Executive Order

By Conn Maciel Carey LLP’s COVID-19 Task Force

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

[BREAKING] Supreme Court Reinstitutes a Stay of OSHA’s Vaccinate-or-Test ETS

By Eric J. Conn, Chair, OSHA Practice Group

After its normal release of opinions this morning that did not include a decision about whether to stay OSHA’s vaccinate-or-test ETS, this afternoon, at approximately 2:30 PM, the United States Supreme Court issued a per curiam decision reinstituting a stay of OSHA’s ETS.  Here is a link to the opinion of the Court.

A per curiam decisions is a court opinion issued in the name of the Court rather than specific judges, but it is certainly not an indication that the decision was unanimous or non-controversial, and in this instance, we know it was not that.  The decision was 6-3 with a concurrence by Justice Gorsuch (joined by Justices Thomas and Alito), and a joint dissent by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan.

What Was the Legal Basis for the Court’s Decision?

As we anticipated based on the tone of last week’s oral argument last week, the majority of the Court based its decision on the lack of an explicit enough delegation of authority from Congress for OSHA to issue a regulation of this significance and of an issue that is not unique to the workplace.  That rationale could have broader implications for OSHA’s regulatory reach than just this COVID-19 ETS (see heat illness):

“Although COVID–19 is a risk that occurs in many workplaces, it is not an occupational hazard in most. COVID–19 can and does spread at home, in schools, during sporting events, and everywhere else that people gather. That kind of universal risk is no different from the day-to-day dangers that all face from crime, air pollution, or any number of communicable diseases. Permitting OSHA to regulate the hazards of daily life—simply because most Americans have jobs and face those same risks while on the clock—would significantly expand OSHA’s regulatory authority without clear congressional authorization.”

Under this theory, the majority opinion indicates that Continue reading

The Supreme Court Heard Oral Argument in the Legal Challenges to OSHA’s Vaccinate-or-Test Emergency Rule

By Conn Maciel Carey LLP’s COVID-19 Task Force

This morning, the US Supreme Court heard oral argument in National Federation of Independent Business v. Department of Labor and Ohio v. Dept. of Labor, the consolidated cases challenging the legality of OSHA’s COVID-19 Vaccination, Testing, and Face Coverings emergency temporary standard.  Specifically, the question before the Court today was whether the OSHA ETS should be stayed pending the merits adjudication pending before the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Although scheduled for just one hour, the argument in this rare OSHA case to appear before the Supreme Court lasted a little more than two full hours.

If you were not able to listen live this morning, here is a link to an audio recording on C-SPAN.  And here is a link to the transcript of the argument.

The Department of Labor was represented at argument by the Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar.  The lawyers representing the petitioners that are seeking an emergency stay of OSHA’s vaccinate-or-test ETS were:

  • Scott Keller from Lehotsky Keller LLP, representing National Federation of Independent Business and other industry associations; and
  • Benjamin Flowers, the Solicitor General of Ohio, representing Ohio and other petitioner states.

The Ohio Solicitor General, arguing against OSHA’s vaccinate-or-test ETS, appeared remotely for the argument because he tested positive for COVID-19, somewhat ironically, pursuant to the Supreme Court’s own testing mandate for lawyers who would appear in-person to argue before the Court.

Our very high level takeaway from the argument today, and based on the nature of the questions the various Justices asked and what we know about their jurisprudence, it seemed that the conservative majority of the Court Continue reading

Chicago’s New Year Vaccine Requirements

By Conn Maciel Carey LLP’s COVID-19 Task Force

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise throughout the state of Illinois, operators of indoor dining establishments, gyms, and entertainment venues where food and drinks are being served in the City of Chicago face a series of new requirements that necessitate quick action. Beginning January 3, 2022, Public Health Order 2021-2 will require all individuals over the age of 5, show proof of full vaccination to dine indoors, workout, and patronize entertainment venues. For purposes of the Public Health Order, fully vaccinated is the more restrictive of either the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance or Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) posted guidelines. For the time being, both the CDC and CDPH guidelines are aligned, defining fully vaccinated as two weeks after receiving the second dose in a two dose vaccination series and one week after receiving a single dose in a single dose vaccination series.  It remains to be seen if, or when, the recommended-but-not-required boosters will be added to that definition.

Employers, of course, must quickly figure out how to implement measures to comply with this Order—both with respect to customers/guests as well as with employees given that the Order does not have a minimum employee threshold like the Fed OSHA ETS.  This means that even small, independently owned restaurants and bars will be expected to comply even if they were not covered by the ETS which kicked in only at 100 employees.

Who is covered?

Public Health Order 2021-2 applies to the following venues: Continue reading

Update on OSHA’s COVID Emergency Rule for Healthcare – And How It Affects the Vaccinate-or-Test ETS

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Last week, on December 27th, OSHA announced the withdrawal of most of its COVID-19 ETS for Healthcare, which was the first of the two COVID-19 emergency temporary standards OSHA issued in the first year of the Biden Administration.

This Healthcare ETS was issued back in June 2021 in response to President Biden’s Day 1 OSHA Executive Order.  Recall that this was the ETS that had been crafted by OSHA to apply to all employers in all industries, but as it was being finalized in late Spring, when it looked like we might just be approaching the end of the pandemic, the Administration decided to narrow the scope to just the healthcare industry.  That ETS was what we call a “programmatic” standard; requiring the development of a comprehensive COVID-19 prevention program, complete with an array of required engineering and administrative controls.  When the Healthcare ETS was issued, OSHA noted on its webpage for the ETS that it expected the ETS to be in effect for six months from the date of publication — until December 21, 2021.

December 21st came and went without any word from OSHA.  But on Monday of last week, , six days after the Healthcare ETS’s six-month anniversary, OSHA issued a statement that:

“[while OSHA] intends to continue to work expeditiously to issue a final standard that will protect healthcare workers from COVID-19 hazards, and will do so as it also considers its broader infectious disease rulemaking[,]” it is “withdrawing the non-recordkeeping portions of the healthcare ETS. The COVID-19 log and reporting provisions … remain in effect.”

Here is the full statement posted on OSHA’s Healthcare ETS webpage:

Why Did OSHA Withdraw Portions of the Healthcare ETS? Continue reading

CDC Relaxes Isolation and Quarantine Recommendations – How Does That Affect OSHA’s Vaccinate-or-Test ETS?

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

On December 27, 2021, the CDC updated and shortened its recommended isolation and quarantine periods for the general population.  To be precise, yesterday CDC issued a media statement laying out its new guidance, but CDC’s actual Isolation Guidance webpage has not yet been updated.  CDC explained in the statement that:

“[b]oth updates [to the isolation and quarantine periods] come as the Omicron variant continues to spread throughout the U.S. and reflects the current science on when and for how long a person is maximally infectious.”

What are CDC’s New Isolation and Quarantine Guidelines? 

With respect to isolation (which relates to behavior after a confirmed infection), CDC states:

“[g]iven what we currently know about COVID-19 and the Omicron variant, CDC is shortening the recommended time for isolation from 10 days for people with COVID-19 to 5 days, if asymptomatic, followed by 5 days of wearing a mask when around others.”

Explaining the change, CDC maintains that it is “motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the 1-2 days prior to onset of symptoms and 2-3 days after. Therefore, people who test positive should isolate for 5 days, and if asymptomatic at that time, they may leave isolation if they mask for 5 days to minimize the risk of infecting others.”

Additionally, with respect to quarantine (which refers to the time following exposure to the virus or close contact with someone known to have COVID-19), CDC states: Continue reading

OSHA Updates its Testing-Related FAQs about the COVID-19 Vaccination, Testing, and Face Coverings ETS

By Conn Maciel Carey LLP’s COVID-19 Task Force

We wanted to share (hopefully) one last ETS update before Christmas.  As you know, when the Fifth Circuit issued its Stay of OSHA’s Vaccination, Testing, and Face Coverings Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) in November, OSHA announced that it had “suspended activities related to the implementation and enforcement of the ETS pending future developments in the litigation.”  Essentially, OSHA said it was “pencils down” completely – no longer responding to email inquiries about interpretations of ETS terms, no longer speaking/presenting about the ETS, and importantly, no longer producing additional compliance guidance or FAQs.

With the Sixth Circuit lifting the Stay last week, however, OSHA immediately updated its website to reflect that the agency “can now once again implement this vital workplace health standard.”  OSHA went right back to work on compliance assistance, not just licking its chops to start enforcing the rule.  Indeed, in the last couple of days, OSHA has updated its FAQs on its Vaccination and Testing ETS webpage, including several about the confusing and challenging testing elements of the ETS (See Section 6 – and 6P. through 6.X. are the news testing FAQs).  Below are a few of the notable new testing-related FAQs that address questions we were fielding frequently (and thankfully answering correctly):

Continue reading

OSHA’s Vaccinate-or-Test ETS in the Hands of the Supreme Court

By Conn Maciel Carey LLP’s COVID-19 Task Force

As we shared over the weekend, at 6:50 PM on Friday night (December 17th), a three-judge panel at the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit dissolved the nationwide stay of OSHA’s Vaccinate-or-Test ETS that had been issued in early November by the Fifth Circuit.  That same night, several of the petitioners in the legal challenges to the ETS appealed the Sixth Circuit’s decision to the Supreme Court.

As we have been discussing for a while, the decision about the Stay of the ETS (and ultimately the legality of the ETS) was destined for the Supreme Court, and the Court, at least on the issue of the TRO/Stay, could choose to address the question either by:

  • the so-called “shadow docket,” with no briefing and a decision perhaps issued by a single Justice; or
  • more conventional proceedings, with briefing and oral argument, and likely a decision by all nine Justices.

Each of the nine Justices on the US Supreme Court is assigned to oversee one or more of the regional US courts of appeals.  Justice Kavanaugh is the justice assigned to the Sixth Circuit, to oversee requests for emergency review or shadow docket consideration from cases before the Sixth Circuit.  Justice Kavanaugh is part of what is becoming something of a triad of swing voters on the Court, along with justice Coney Barrett and Chief justice Roberts.

On Monday, Justice Kavanaugh issued an Order to the Department of Labor to submit briefing in response to the emergency petitions with a deadline of 4 PM on Thursday, December 30th.  The Order does not provide for any additional briefing by petitioners or friends of the court.  Then, just a few hours ago, the Court issued another Order setting the case for oral argument a week later, on January 7, 2022.

We now have a clearer picture of Continue reading