Cal/OSHA Issues a Second Batch of FAQs Clarifying Its New COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard

By Eric J. Conn, Andrew J. Sommer, and Beeta B. Lashkari

On November 30, 2020, Cal/OSHA issued its COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard and it became effective immediately — all provisions.  Cal/OSHA has signaled that there will be some early enforcement discretion, except for actions thought already to be required by the Injury Illness Prevention Plan regulation and other pre-existing regulations.  But getting into compliance with this burdensome new rule should be a high priority.

And how to get into compliance, or at least what Cal/OSHA is expecting from California employers, has gotten a little clearer. As promised by Division Chief Doug Parker and Deputy Chief of Standards Eric Berg, we have a new set of Cal/OSHA FAQs about the agency’s COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard.

The FAQs were announced by Cal/OSHA in a communication confirming that the agency would continue to issue guidance as needed, and continue to implement the formal Advisory Committee Process through which improvements and fixes to the rule may be adopted.  Here’s an excerpt from the communication:

“There are now 69 FAQs with seven additional subheadings to help clarify and answer questions that we have received about the COVID-19 Prevention ETS …. We will continue to update the FAQs as needed in the future….”

And here is a link to full set of FAQs Cal/OSHA has issued about the rule.

Based on our review, we think these FAQs provide some important clarifications about the ETS, and in some instances, essentially rewrite the regulatory language (mostly in helpful ways).  But it is also our view that the FAQs do not appear to be as flexible as the agency had signaled in some informal guidance (e.g., regarding how to determine the scope of an outbreak), and it does not address several important questions (e.g., what are employers options and obligations for employees who decline testing required by the rule).  Here are some of the new FAQs Continue reading

[Webinar] OSHA’s 2020 in Review and 2021 Forecast

On Thursday, January 14th at 1:00 PM ET, plan to join the Partners in Conn Maciel Carey’s national OSHA • Workplace Safety Practice Group for a webinar regarding Annual OSHA Update: 2020 In-Review and 2021 Forecast.

The ball has dropped, the confetti has been swept out of Times Square, and 2020 is in the books. It’s time to look back and take stock of what we learned from and about OSHA over the past year. More importantly, it is time to look ahead and assess what to expect from OSHA during the new year, and the start of a new Presidential term (either the 2nd Term of President Trump or new Administration under former Vice President Joe Biden). In this webinar, the Chair of Conn Maciel Carey’s national OSHA Practice Group will review OSHA enforcement, rulemaking, and leadership developments from 2020, and will discuss the top OSHA issues employers should monitor and prepare for in the New Year.

Participants in this webinar will learn the following: Continue reading

President-Elect Biden Announces Boston Mayor Marty Walsh as his Choice for Secretary of Labor

By: Kara M. Maciel, Eric J. Conn, and Beeta B. Lashkari

On January 7, 2021, President-elect Joe Biden announced his much-awaited choice for nominee to serve as Secretary of Labor, selecting Boston Mayor Marty Walsh.  Mayor Walsh made his mark as a labor leader, ultimately heading the Building and Construction Trades Council from 2011 to 2013.   Mr. Walsh was also a full-time legislator, serving in the Massachusetts state legislature for some 17 years before being elected mayor in 2014.Picture1

If confirmed, it is expected that Mayor Walsh’s close personal friendship with President-elect Biden will elevate the importance of the Labor Department in President Biden’s cabinet, allowing a Secretary Walsh significant influence in the Administration.

Mayor Walsh’s strong ties to organized labor and his selection follows through on President-elect Biden’s campaign promise to give unions a stronger voice in labor policy in his Administration. Mayor Walsh has a reputation as a “pragmatic deal maker,” and he is respected in Massachusetts by both business and labor for his reasonable approach to solving labor and employment issues facing the state.

Of the many issues likely to be tackled by the Labor Department over the next few years, one of the first and most impactful will be the likely issuance of a federal COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard by OSHA.  President-elect Biden has pledged to have OSHA quickly address this issue.  If a federal ETS is promulgated, it would replace the current Administration’s approach, which has relied heavily on CDC and agency guidance, as well as existing OSHA standards, like the respiratory protection standard and recordkeeping rules, to issue citations.  With respect to COVID-19, under Mayor Walsh’s leadership, the City of Boston implemented a Continue reading

Announcing Conn Maciel Carey’s 2021 OSHA Webinar Series

ANNOUNCING CONN MACIEL CAREY’S
2021 OSHA WEBINAR SERIES

As the Trump Administration hands over the keys to President-Elect Biden and a new Democratic Administration, OSHA’s enforcement and regulatory landscape is set to change in dramatic ways, from shifting enforcement priorities, budgets and policies, to efforts to reignite OSHA’s rulemaking apparatus. Following an Administration that never installed an Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, handled COVID-19 enforcement with a light touch, pumped the brakes on almost all rulemaking in general, and declined to issue an emergency COVID-19 standard in particular, the pendulum swing at OSHA is likely to be more pronounced than during past transitions. Accordingly, it is more important now than ever before to pay attention to OSHA developments.

Conn Maciel Carey’s complimentary 2021 OSHA Webinar Series, which includes (at least) monthly programs put on by OSHA-specialist attorneys in the firm’s national OSHA Practice, is designed to give employers insight into developments at OSHA during this period of flux and unpredictability.

To register for an individual webinar in the series, click on the link in the program description below. To register for the entire 2021 series, click here to send us an email request, and we will register you.  If you missed any of our programs from the past seven years of our annual OSHA Webinar Series, click here to subscribe to our YouTube channel to access those webinars.


2021 OSHA Webinar Series – Program Schedule

OSHA’s 2020 in Review
and 2021
Forecast

Thursday, January 14th

Respiratory Protection Rules –
Top 5 Risks and Mistakes

Wednesday, May 12th

Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19
Emergency Temporary Standard

Tuesday, January 26th

What to Expect from DOL Under
a Biden Administration

Wednesday, June 16th

What Employers Need to Know
About the COVID-19 Vaccine

Thursday, February 11th

Mid-Year Review of OSHA Developments

Thursday, July 22nd

COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution and Administration: OSHA Considerations

Thursday, February 18th

OSHA VPP and other Cooperative Programs

Tuesday, August 24th

Update About the
Chemical Safety Board

Tuesday, March 16th

Update about OSHA’s Electronic Recordkeeping Rule

Wednesday, September 8th

Annual Cal/OSHA Enforcement
and Regulatory Update

Tuesday, March 23rd

OSHA Issues During
Acquisitions and Divestitures

Thursday, October 7th

COVID-19 OSHA Enforcement
and Regulatory Update

Wednesday, April 20th

Updates about OSHA’s PSM
Standard EPA’s RMP Rule

Tuesday, November 16th

Recap of Year One of the Biden Administration

Tuesday, December 14th

See below for the full schedule with program descriptions,
dates, times and links to register for each webinar event.

Continue reading

[Client Alert] New California Employment Laws for 2021 Will Leave Their Mark

By Andrew Sommer, Fred Walter, and Megan Shaked

2020 has been another banner year for California employment laws, with legislation and Cal/OSHA rulemaking associated with COVID-19 prevention and reporting taking center stage.  In our annual update of new employment laws impacting California private sector employers, we lead off with California’s COVID-19 related laws, given their far-reaching impact on the state’s workforce during the pandemic as employers continue to implement measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.  We have also addressed other substantive legislative developments, particularly in the areas of wage and hour law and reporting of employee pay data.  Unless otherwise indicated, these new laws will take effect on January 1, 2021.

COVID-19 Related Rulemaking and Legislation

Temporary Emergency COVID-19 Prevention Rule Not to be outdone by Virginia OSHA, Oregon OSHA or Michigan OSHA, Cal/OSHA adopted an onerous COVID-19 specific temporary emergency regulation effective November 30, 2020.  Below is a detailed summary of how we got here, as well as an outline of what the rule requires.

On November 19, 2020, the California’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (Standards Board) voted unanimously to adopt an Emergency COVID-19 Prevention Rule following a contentious public hearing with over 500 participants in attendance (albeit virtually).  The Emergency Rule was then presented to California’s Office of Administrative Law for approval and publication.  The Rule brings with it a combination of requirements overlapping with and duplicative of already-existing state and county requirements applicable to employers, as well as a number of new and, in some cases, very burdensome compliance obligations.

The Standards Board’s emergency rulemaking was triggered last May with the submission of a Petition for an emergency rulemaking filed by worker advocacy group WorkSafe and National Lawyers’ Guild, Labor & Employment Committee.  The Petition requested the Board amend Title 8 standards to create two new regulations Continue reading

VOSH and the Virginia Dept. of Health Adopt Big Changes to Employers’ COVID-19 Requirements

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Virginia made two significant changes to its COVID-19 regulatory landscape last week as it relates to quarantine measures and reporting positive cases to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH).

First, VDH has officially adopted CDC’s new quarantine guidance.  VDH and CDC continue to recommend a quarantine period of 14 days.  However, CDC guidance now includes two additional options for how long quarantine should last.  The safest option is still to quarantine for 14 days after last exposure, shorter quarantine periods are acceptable for close contacts who are quarantining but who have not experienced any systems.  Specifically, asymptomatic close contacts may end a quarantine after day 10 without testing, or after day 7 with a negative PCR or negative antigen test, if the test was performed on or after day 5.  It is still important to watch for symptoms of COVID-19 until 14 days after exposure, and to take other prevention measures including wearing a mask, distancing, and frequent hand washing.

VDH formally adopted this revised quarantine guidance in an announcement on its website for everyone except healthcare workers or healthcare facilities.  VDH recommends that Continue reading

[FAQs] Lessons Learned from the Roll-out of Virginia OSHA’s New COVID-19 Standard

On December 7, 2020, Eric J. Conn (Chair of Conn Maciel Carey’s national OSHA Practice), Susan Wilcox (a CIH and CSP with Safety Resource Associates in Virginia), and special guest Jennifer Rose (VOSH Cooperative Programs Director with the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry) presented a webinar regarding Lessons Learned from the Roll-out of Virginia OSHA’s New COVID-19 Standard.

Earlier this Summer, Virginia became the first state in the nation to promulgate a mandatory safety regulation designed to reduce COVID-19 infections in the workplace, when Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam announced the commonwealth’s adoption of an Emergency Temporary Standard (“ETS”).  VOSH’s COVID-19 ETS went to effect on July 27th, with major elements of the rule kicking in in August and September.

Now, several months into implementation of the COVID-19-specific regulation, we checked in on the status of the rule, challenges employers have faced complying with it, and enforcement issues. We are pleased to share links to a copy of the slides and a recording of the webinar. Continue reading

[Webinar] Delaying Retirement: Impact of America’s Aging Workforce on OSHA and Employment Matters

On Wednesday, December 16th at 1:00 PM ET, plan to join Lindsay A. DiSalvo and Ashley D. Mitchell for a webinarCapture regarding Delaying Retirement: Impact of America’s Aging Workforce on OSHA and Employment Matters

The single biggest factor affecting safety and health in America’s workplaces this decade is our aging workforce. Older workers offer valuable experience and job knowledge, but with that comes an increased risk of serious workplace injuries due to physiological changes affecting flexibility, strength, vision, hearing, and balance.  Although older workers experience fewer total injuries than their junior counterparts, the injuries they do have tend to be more severe and require longer recovery times. With more than 30 million workers 55 years or older expected to be in the U.S. labor force by 2025, and huge numbers of workers remaining in the workforce well past traditional retirement age, employers face unique challenges in keeping employees safe and healthy and complying with a host of state and federal laws.

This webinar will review the realities of our nation’s aging workforce and how employers must carefully address these realities without running afoul of OSHA regulations and federal and state anti-discrimination laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Participants in this webinar will learn about: Continue reading

[Bonus Webinar] Conversation with the Director of NIOSH about COVID-19 in the Workplace

On Monday, December 21, 2020 at 1 p.m. ET, join Kate McMahon, a Partner in Conn Maciel Carey’s national OSHA Practice, and special guest Dr. John Howard, the Director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), for a one-on-one Q&A event regarding COVID-19 in the workplace.

Cases continue to spike throughout the United States, while employers try to keep pace with ever-shifting guidance from the CDC, OSHA, and state and county health departments, and face several new COVID-19 emergency regulations around the country. NIOSH works closely with the CDC to develop its COVID-19 guidance and to help educate Industry on effective infection control and response strategies. NIOSH also provides support to the White House Coronavirus Taskforce and assists states and local health departments develop effect strategies and policy to address COVID-19 in the workplace.

Through this Q&A session, Dr. John Howard, the Director of NIOSH for 17 years and counting, provides detailed insight and advice on the workplace safety and health implications of COVID-19 and what employers can expect next and how they can protect their workers from this pandemic. Participants in this webinar will learn: Continue reading

[Webinar Recording] Lessons Learned from the Roll-out of Virginia OSHA’s New COVID-19 Standard

On December 7, 2020, Eric J. Conn (Chair of Conn Maciel Carey’s national OSHA Practice), Susan Wilcox (a CIH and CSP with Safety Resource Associates in Virginia), and special guest Jennifer Rose (VOSH Cooperative Programs Director with the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry) presented a webinar regarding Lessons Learned from the Roll-out of Virginia OSHA’s New COVID-19 Standard.

Earlier this Summer, Virginia became the first state in the nation to promulgate a mandatory safety regulation designed to reduce COVID-19 infections in the workplace, when Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam announced the commonwealth’s adoption of an Emergency Temporary Standard (“ETS”). The COVID-19 ETS, which was drafted by Virginia’s Department of Labor and Industry, requires Virginia employers to:

  • Assess potential exposures to COVID-19 in the workplace
  • Categorize the level of risk exposure from Low to Very High (each with different mitigation requirements)
  • Develop and implement a written infection control plan
  • Provide employee training on the virus and control measures in the workplace
  • Make certain notifications about infected employees to co-workers, to VOSH, and to the VA Dept. of Health

VOSH’s COVID-19 ETS went to effect on July 27th, with major elements of the rule kicking in in August and September. Now, several months into implementation of the COVID-19-specific regulation, we check on the status of the rule, challenges employers have faced complying with it, and enforcement issues. Participants in this webinar will learn: Continue reading

CDC Updates Return-to-Work Guidance Again – Reduces Quarantine Time

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

As we noted in a Client Alert last month, the CDC issued its new guidance for “Close Contacts” in a way that would make quarantine circumstances much more likely; i.e., CDC’s new definition of close contact makes it explicit that the 15-minute exposure period (i.e., within 6-feet of an infected individual for 15 minutes) should be assessed based on a cumulative amount of time over 24 hours, rather than just a single, continuous 15-minute interaction.

Creating even more challenges for maintaining adequate staffing, the CDC issued additional guidance in November limiting the flexibility to keep asymptomatic critical infrastructure workers at work after a close contact exposure:

Employers may consider allowing exposed and asymptomatic critical infrastructure workers to continue to work in select instances when it is necessary to preserve the function of critical infrastructure workplaces. This option should be used as a last resort and only in limited circumstances, such as when cessation of operation of a facility may cause serious harm or danger to public health or safety.

Those two changes combined to make staffing a real challenge as we move firmly into the second big wave of COVID-19 cases.

Perhaps because of those challenges, today, the CDC issued new guidance that would reduce the duration of many quarantines from 14 days to 10 days and, in some cases to 7 days.  Specifically, CDC identified the following options as acceptable alternatives to a 14-day quarantine:

  • Quarantine can end after Day 10 without testing and if no symptoms have been reported during daily monitoring.
  • If testing is available, then quarantine can end after Day 7 if a respiratory specimen tests negative and no symptoms were reported during daily monitoring.  The specimen may be collected and tested within 48 hours before the time of planned quarantine discontinuation (e.g., in anticipation of testing delays), but quarantine cannot be discontinued earlier than after Day 7; i.e., testing should be initiated no earlier than Day 5 after the close contact exposure occurs. Continue reading

3rd Annual (Virtual) Process Safety Summit – December 8-9, 2020

Register today for the 3rd Annual (Virtual) Process Safety Summit on December 8-9, 2020.

Like so many other aspects of our lives, our Annual Process Safety Summit in Washington, DC will look a little different in the year of COVID-19.  Rather than gathering together in person in our Nation’s Capital for two full days in October, the 3rd Annual Process Safety Summit will be a virtual event, and it will take place in shorter segments on December 8-9, 2020.

But what will not change is the Summit’s one-of-a-kind opportunity to convene safety and legal professionals from chemical manufacturing, petroleum refining, paper, and other process industries with the senior government officials responsible for regulating process safety.  Check out our working agenda and register today.

What is the Process Safety Summit in Washington, DC?

The Process Safety Summit in Washington, DC is an annual event, typically based in our nation’s Capital.  The 2nd Annual Summit last Fall welcomed more than 175 safety, process safety, and legal professionals from stakeholders in the chemical, petrochemical, paper, and petroleum refining industries, and other industries with operations covered by OSHA’s PSM Standard and EPA’s RMP Rule. The Summit focuses on the process safety regulatory landscape and industry best practices, with programming that covers rulemaking, enforcement programs, significant cases, trends as we move through the Trump Administration and into a Biden Administration, best practices, and other key process safety regulatory issues impacting Industry.

This Summit fills an important gap for employers operating the process safety regulatory environment.

Continue reading

Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard Approved by OAL and Immediately Effective

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Earlier today, we shared an update about Cal/OSHA’s fast-moving rulemaking for an emergency COVID-19 prevention rule, along with a detailed summary of how we got here, as well as an outline of what the California rule will require.

We wanted to give you an update as soon as we heard, and we just heard… OAL has officially approved Cal/OSHA’s emergency COVID-19 prevention regulation.  OAL’s website was just updated with this entry:

And here is the Cal/OSHA website reflecting the current status of the rule and the final approved regulation language: “Text Approved by OAL.

As Cal/OSHA’s website notes, the rule was filed with the Secretary of State today, and it is immediately effective – all provisions.  However, during the Board’s final public hearing about the rule, the Division signaled there would be some reasonable delay in enforcement.  Specifically, Division Chief Doug Parker told the Standards Board:

“Some employers are going to need more time. We intend to fully take that into account in determining how they’re implementing the rule….  The Division will consider ‘good-faith’ efforts on the part of employers and will offer compliance assistance.”

Be cautious about that, however, as the agency has not issued anything formal conveying this enforcement discretion, and to the extent the new rule merely formalizes some requirement Cal/OSHA already believed it had authority to enforce under the IIPP rule, do not expect any leniency.  Be sure to document the efforts you are taking to come into compliance, especially where coming into full compliance will take a little time.

Here is what will happen next:

  • Guidance / FAQs:  Cal/OSHA has indicated that it will soon be issuing FAQs and other guidance as early as this week that will hopefully “clarify” some of the provisions that we have flagged as ambiguous or problematic in our comments and other discussions with the Division.  For example, we anticipate some guidance confirming that employers may Continue reading

California COVID-19 Emergency Rule Adopted by Standards Board

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Not to be outdone by Virginia OSHA, Oregon OSHA, or Michigan OSHA, Cal/OSHA is on the precipice of issuing an onerous COVID-19 specific regulation that is expected to be issued, with all provisions immediately effective, next week.  Below is detailed summary of how we got here, as well as an outline of what the California rule will require.

On November 19, 2020, the California’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (“Board”) voted unanimously to adopt an Emergency COVID-19 Prevention Rule following a contentious public hearing with over 500 participants in attendance (albeit virtually).  The Emergency Rule has been presented to California’s Office of Administrative Law (“OAL”) for approval and publication. OAL has ten days to approve the Rule; if approved, the Rule will become immediately effective, likely next Monday, November 30th.  The Rule brings with it a combination of requirements overlapping with and duplicative of already-existing state and county requirements applicable to employers, as well as a number of new and, in some cases, very burdensome, compliance obligations.

The Board’s emergency rulemaking was triggered last May with the submission of a Petition for an emergency rulemaking filed by worker advocacy group WorkSafe and National Lawyers’ Guild, Labor & Employment Committee.  The Petition requested the Board amend Title 8 standards to create two new regulations – the first, a temporary emergency standard that would provide specific protections to California employees who may experience exposure to COVID-19, but who are not already covered by Cal/OSHA’s existing Aerosol Transmissible Diseases standard (section 5199, which applies generally to healthcare employers); and the second, a regular rulemaking for a permanent infectious diseases standard, including novel pathogens such as SARS-CoV-2.  Note that emergency rulemakings are rare and must meet a very high threshold designed to allow this abbreviated process; only when a true emergency necessitates this process.  Here is a very simplified flowchart of the emergency standards rulemaking process.

Interestingly, the Standard Board’s staff found that a new COVID-19 rule was unnecessary because much of the proposed requirements recommended by WorkSafe’s Petition are already addressed under Cal/OSHA’s Injury and Illness Prevention Program Standard (“IIPP”), and therefore, recommended that the Petition be denied.  DOSH staff, however, recommended that the Petition be approved, finding that an emergency regulation is warranted by the COVID-19 public health crisis and that the agency’s enforcement efforts would benefit from a specific regulatory mandate related to COVID-19.

On September 17th, the Standards Board accepted DOSH’s recommendation, finding that Continue reading

[Webinar] Lessons Learned from the Roll-out of Virginia OSHA’s New COVID-19 Standard

On Monday, December 7th at 1 PM ET, join Eric J. Conn (Chair of Conn Maciel Carey’s national OSHA Practice), Susan Wilcox (a CIH and CSP with Safety Resource Associates in Virginia), and special guest Jennifer Rose (VOSH Cooperative Programs Director with the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry) for a webinar regarding Lessons Learned from the Roll-out of Virginia OSHA’s New COVID-19 Standard.

Earlier this Summer, Virginia became the first state in the nation to promulgate a mandatory safety regulation designed to reduce COVID-19 infections in the workplace, when Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam announced the commonwealth’s adoption of an Emergency Temporary Standard (“ETS”). The COVID-19 ETS, which was drafted by Virginia’s Department of Labor and Industry, requires Virginia employers to:
  • Assess potential exposures to COVID-19 in the workplace
  • Categorize the level of risk of exposure from Low to Very High (each with different mitigation requirements)
  • Develop and implement a written infection control plan
  • Provide employee training on the virus and control measures in the workplace
  • Make certain notifications about infected employees to co-workers, to VOSH, and to the VA Dept. of Health
VOSH’s COVID-19 ETS went to effect on July 27th, with major elements of the rule kicking in in August and September. Now, several months into implementation of the COVID-19-specific regulation, we check on the status of the rule, challenges employers have faced complying with it, and enforcement issues. Participants in this webinar will learn:

Continue reading

What Employers Need to Know About Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccines

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

With the availability of a safe, effective COVID-19 vaccine edging closer and closer, employers understandably have a number of questions regarding their role in the workplace – whether and when they can require a vaccination, what exceptions are required in a mandatory vaccination program, and whether they should require (as opposed to encourage and facilitate) the COVID-19 vaccine for employees once it becomes available. 

This summer, the World Health Organization reported that nearly 200 potential vaccines were currently being developed in labs across the world, and as of mid-October, disclosed that more than 40 had advanced to clinical stage testing on humans.  Drug manufacturers estimate that a vaccine will be ready and approved for general use by the end of this year, although logistically not ready for widespread distribution until mid-2021.

Indeed, just over the past couple of weeks, Pfizer and Moderna have made promising announcements regarding the results of their clinical trials.  Namely, on Monday, November 9, 2020, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that a vaccine candidate against COVID-19 achieved success in the firm interim analysis from the Phase 3 study.  The vaccine candidate was found to be more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 in participants without evidence of prior SARS-CoV-2 infection in the first interim efficacy analysis.  According to the announcement, submission for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is planned for soon after the required safety milestone is achieved, which is currently expected to occur this week.  Additionally, as reported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on November 16, 2020, there have been promising interim results from a clinical trial of a NIH-Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.  An independent data and safety monitoring board (DSMB) reported that the vaccine candidate was safe and well-tolerated and noted a vaccine efficacy rate of 94.5%.

As the reality of a vaccination nears, employers are inquiring whether they can and should mandate the vaccine for their employees.

  1. Can Employers Require Employees to Take the COVID-19 Vaccine?

As a threshold matter, it should be noted that according to a member of the federal advisory panel on immunizations that will be making recommendations to the CDC on who should get the first doses, vaccines authorized under the FDA’s emergency use authority, as these COVID-19 vaccinations will be at the start, cannot be mandated.  Any COVID-19 vaccine brought to market under an EUA instead of the normal non-emergency approval process will, by necessity, lack long term safety data.

In general though, outside the context of EUA vaccine, employers can require vaccination as a term and condition of employment, but such practice is not without limitations, nor is it always recommended.  Although the issue is only now coming to the forefront because of COVID-19, mandatory vaccinations in the workplace are not new, and have been particularly prevalent among healthcare providers for decades.  Some variability exists under federal law and among federal agencies, but for the most part, mandatory vaccination programs are permissible, as long as employers consider religious accommodation requests under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and medical accommodation requests under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Continue reading

Fed OSHA and State OSH Plans Address Ventilation to Reduce the Workplace Spread of COVID-19

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

While each week seems to bring news of new COVID-19 rules imposed by a state, county or city, federal OSHA continues to offer guidance of which employers should take notice.  Earlier this month, on November 5th, OSHA issued a new publication focused on ways employers can use ventilation to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 virus droplets through the air in their workplaces.

“Ensuring adequate ventilation throughout the work environment can help to maintain a safe and healthy workplace.”

The guidance provides a window into the types of questions OSHA may ask during future COVID-related inspections, and could be referenced as support for General Duty Clause violations.  Employees, as well as lawyers representing individuals bringing wrongful death actions on behalf of deceased employees, may also question why an employer opted not to evaluate ventilation systems and take some or all of the steps recommended by OSHA.

We had been bracing for guidance or regulatory requirements related to ventilation, with concerns that it would require capital projects to overhaul existing HVAC systems.  But fortunately, this guidance does not go that far, and in fact, most of the recommended steps are not particularly burdensome.  For example, OSHA suggests working with a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) specialist to ensure the employer’s HVAC systems are fully functional.  OSHA also recommends that employers open windows or provide other sources of fresh air wherever possible, and leave restroom exhaust fans on continuously while operating at maximum capacity — steps that can be achieved without infrastructure changes to the workplace.

More burdensome than leaving a bathroom fan running or a window open, however, OSHA also advises installing air filters with a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) rating of 13 or higher, where feasible (i.e., where the system can handle it), and using portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) fan/filtration systems to increase clean air, especially in higher-risk areas.

When working with an HVAC specialist, the guidance recommends that employers also should confirm that Continue reading

Oregon OSHA Issues Final COVID-19 Temporary Standard (Compliance Deadlines in Early December)

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Earlier this week, on Monday, November 9, 2020, Oregon OSHA released its final COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (the “OR ETS”) after several delays.  Employers will have to act quickly to come into compliance, as the ETS goes into effect November 16th, with a series of major deadlines coming due in early December.

The ETS includes one set of mandates for all workplaces and another set for what it defines as “workplaces of exceptional risk” — namely those that include job duties related to direct patient care, aerosol-generating or post-mortem procedures, in-home care and/or direct client service in residential care or assisted living facilities.  The OR ETS also includes an appendix with “mandatory guidance” for 19 specific industries and/or workplace activities, including:

  • restaurants and bars;
  • retail;
  • construction;
  • veterinary clinics; and
  • entertainment facilities.

Explaining the need for an emergency rule, leadership at OR OSHA said this:

“The COVID-19 emergency has highlighted the risks that any infectious disease, particularly one that is airborne, can create for a wide variety of workplaces. As a result of both the immediate and long-term risks highlighted by the current public and occupational health crisis, Oregon OSHA is responding to the request that the state adopt an enforceable workplace health rule on an emergency basis this summer, to be replaced by a permanent rule.”

Oregon OSHA has plans to release materials on its website to support work on the risk assessment, the written exposure control plan, and the training activities required in the rule.  Presently, there is a template exposure risk assessment form available. The agency also released a poster that employers must post in the workplace.

For the majority of employers, the OR ETS requires that they Continue reading

[Webinar Recording] Michigan OSHA’s New COVID-19 Emergency Rule

On October 29, 2020, Eric J. Conn, Aaron R. Gelb and Ashley D. Mitchell presented a bonus webinar event: Michigan OSHA’s New COVID-19 Emergency Rule.

When the MI Supreme Court struck down Gov. Whitmer’s COVID-19 Executive Orders, MI OSHA responded quickly to fill the void, and last week issued a series of COVID-19 Emergency Regulations. When Gov. Whitmer signed the “Emergency Rules Order,” Michigan became only the second state in the country with a set of enforceable, COVID-19 specific regulations. While many of the requirements set forth in the new rules mirror the Governor’s prior EOs, having a prescriptive rule in place makes it that much easier for MI OSHA to issue citations to employers.

Given MI OSHA’s aggressive use of the General Duty Clause to support a series of citations after an inspection blitz over the summer, Michigan employers should expect enforcement to continue in a similar manner, making compliance with these rules all the more important.  Participants in this webinar learned about the requirements of MIOSHA’s COVID-19 emergency rules and steps to take to avoid citations, including:

Continue reading

New Jersey Joins States with Mandatory Workplace COVID-19 Protective Measures

By the Conn Maciel Carey COVID-19 Task Force

Following in the wake of Virginia OSHA and Michigan OSHA issuing enforceable COVID-19 emergency temporary standards, and as Oregon OSHA and Cal/OSHA ready their own COVID-19 emergency standards this month, New Jersey’s governor, Phil Murphy, issued Executive Order No. 192 (“EO 192”) on October 28, 2020, imposing a series of requirements on Garden State employers.

Whereas Virginia, Michigan, California, and Oregon are all State OSH Plan States, meaning they have state agencies that enforce workplace safety and health standards, New Jersey employers fall within the jurisdiction of federal OSHA, and as a result, enforcement of EO 192 will fall to New Jersey state agencies that do not normally focus on occupational safety and health issues.  In a press release announcing EO 192, Governor Murphy explained why he issued the Order despite federal OSHA’s primary jurisdiction over workplace safety in New Jersey.  Governor Murphy explained:

“A more significant portion of the State’s workforce has returned to in-person work, and as [New Jersey’s] economy continues to gradually reopen, it is necessary to ensure broad application of relevant health and safety standards to protect workers across all industries.”

Governor Murphy also pointed to the absence of a federal COVID-19 standard as another reason for the need for the EO in New Jersey:

“the federal government has failed to provide all workers the proper standards and protections that they deserve. Today’s executive order closes that gap to help ensure the health and safety of our workforce during this unprecedented time….  Today’s executive order lays out the enforceable standards we need, ensuring the safety of our workers, employers and customers. I will continue to fight for a federal OSHA emergency temporary standard, but where the Trump Administration and Mitch McConnell have dropped the ball, our state has stepped up.”

In order to comply with EO 192, New Jersey employers must:

  • Continue to focus on ensuring 6 feet of distance between workers whenever feasible. Where the nature of an employee’s work or the work area does not allow for 6 feet of distance to be maintained at all times, employers must ensure that each such employee wears a mask and install physical barriers between workstations wherever possible.
  • Require employees, customers, visitors, and other individuals entering the worksite to wear cloth or disposable face masks while on the premises. Masks must be provided to employees at no cost.   Employees may remove their masks when at their workstations if they are at least 6 feet from anyone else, or when alone in a walled office.  Notably, EO 192 provides that employers may deny entry to customers who refuse to wear a mask but does not mandate denial of service as states such as Michigan and Oregon have required.
  • Facilitate and ensure Continue reading

Coalition to Comment on Cal/OSHA’s Emergency COVID-19 Rulemaking

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

On September 17, 2020, the Standards Board voted to grant a Petition filed by the worker advocacy group WorkSafe to promulgate a general industry emergency COVID-19 regulation.  This emergency temporary standard will almost certainly be followed by the development of a permanent infectious disease standard.  The intent of the rulemaking is to set specific, enforceable requirements and prohibitions for California employers, whose employees may be exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace, but who are not covered by Cal/OSHA’s existing Aerosol Transmissible Diseases (ATD) standard (generally applicable to healthcare operations).

Serious Concerns About the Likely Proposed Emergency Regulation

Although Cal/OSHA has not yet published a proposed standard, the WorkSafe petition included a proposed rule that sets specific requirements for identifying and evaluating COVID-19 workplace hazards, responding to COVID-19 exposures, and conducting employee training, among numerous other requirements.  The scuttlebutt we are hearing suggests the Standards Board is likely to follow the WorkSafe’s proposed model for both this emergency rule and a follow-up permanent infectious disease standard.

Regardless of the approach the Standards Board follows, it will be imperative for the employer community to have its voice heard in the rulemaking process, with a set of robust comments and other advocacy.  But if the agency does try to run with a proposal like the one WorkSafe designed, we have already identified numerous potential concerns for employers, including: Continue reading

Oregon to Issue COVID-19 Temporary Standard in Early November (Compliance Deadlines in Early December)

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

On Friday, October 23, 2020, Oregon OSHA released the latest version of its proposed COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (the “OR ETS”).  Already delayed several times, it now appears that the OR ETS will go into effect the week of November 2nd, and include one set of mandates for all workplaces and another set for what it defines as “workplaces of exceptional risk” — namely those that include job duties related to direct patient care, aerosol-generating or post-mortem procedures, in-home care and/or direct client service in residential care or assisted living facilities.  The October 23rd draft also includes an appendix with “mandatory guidance” for 19 specific industries and/or workplace activities, including restaurants and bars, retail, construction, veterinary clinics and entertainment facilities.

Employers seeking to have input in the final rule have little time as Oregon OSHA presently plans to only accept written comments through Friday, October 30.  Depending on how extensive the feedback is submitted, Oregon OSHA will finalize the rule and adjust the various effective dates included in it depending upon its adoption date.

About the need for an emergency rule, leadership at OR OSHA said this:

“The COVID-19 emergency has highlighted the risks that any infectious disease, particularly one that is airborne, can create for a wide variety of workplaces. As a result of both the immediate and long-term risks highlighted by the current public and occupational health crisis, Oregon OSHA is responding to the request that the state adopt an enforceable workplace health rule on an emergency basis this summer, to be replaced by a permanent rule.”

Oregon OSHA plans to develop and release materials to support work on the risk assessment, the written exposure control plan, and the training activities required in the rule.  The agency is also still revising an OSHA Hazards Poster that employers will be required to post in the workplace.

For the majority of employers, the OR ETS will require them to take steps and adopt measures that are similar, if not identical, to those we discussed in our blog posts regarding Virginia OSHA’s COVID-19 ETS and Michigan OSHA’s new COVID-19 emergency rules.  At its core, the emergency standard will require employers to develop and implement:

  1. COVID-19 Exposure Risk Assessments
  2. A Written COVID-19 Exposure Control Plan
  3. COVID-19 and Exposure Control Training
  4. Specific Engineering and Administrative Controls

We detail those 4 core requirements below. Continue reading

Important COVID-19 Update: “Close Contact” Redefined to Mean 15 Cumulative Minutes

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

We want to alert you to a significant COVID-19 development out of the CDC yesterday.  Specifically, the CDC just announced a material revision to its definition of “Close Contact.”  The new definition makes it explicit that the 15-minute exposure period (i.e., within 6-feet of an infected individual for 15 minutes) should be assessed based on a cumulative amount of time over 24 hours, not just a single, continuous 15-minute interaction.

Here is the new definition included on the CDC’s website:

Close Contact – Someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period* starting from 2 days before illness onset (or, for asymptomatic patients, 2 days prior to test specimen collection) until the time the patient is isolated.

* Individual exposures added together over a 24-hour period (e.g., three 5-minute exposures for a total of 15 minutes). Data are limited, making it difficult to precisely define “close contact;” however, 15 cumulative minutes of exposure at a distance of 6 feet or less can be used as an operational definition for contact investigation. Factors to consider when defining close contact include proximity (closer distance likely increases exposure risk), the duration of exposure (longer exposure time likely increases exposure risk), whether the infected individual has symptoms (the period around onset of symptoms is associated with the highest levels of viral shedding), if the infected person was likely to generate respiratory aerosols (e.g., was coughing, singing, shouting), and other environmental factors (crowding, adequacy of ventilation, whether exposure was indoors or outdoors). Because the general public has not received training on proper selection and use of respiratory PPE, such as an N95, the determination of close contact should generally be made irrespective of whether the contact was wearing respiratory PPE.  At this time, differential determination of close contact for those using fabric face coverings is not recommended.​

CDC’s revised view of what constitutes a Close Contact is based on an exposure study at a correctional facility.  Here is the CDC’s public notice about the correctional facility analysis.  The analysis apparently revealed that virus was spread to a 20-year-old prison employee who interacted with individuals who later tested positive for the virus, after 22 interactions that took place over 17 minutes during an eight-hour shift.  

An important consequence of this revision is the impact it will have on employers’ ability to maintain staffing because it establishes a much lower threshold trigger for required quarantine.  Recall that

Continue reading

[Bonus Webinar] Michigan OSHA’s New COVID-19 Emergency Rule

On Thursday, October 29, 2020 at 11 AM Eastern / 10 AM Central, join Eric J. Conn and Aaron R. Gelb for a bonus webinar event: Michigan OSHA’s New COVID-19 Emergency Rule.

When the MI Supreme Court struck down Gov. Whitmer’s COVID-19 Executive Orders, MI OSHA responded quickly to fill the void, and last week issued a series of COVID-19 Emergency Regulations. When Gov. Whitmer signed the “Emergency Rules Order,” Michigan became only the second state in the country with a set of enforceable, COVID-19 specific regulations. While many of the requirements set forth in the new rules mirror the Governor’s prior EOs, having a prescriptive rule in place makes it that much easier for MI OSHA to issue citations to employers.

Given MI OSHA’s aggressive use of the General Duty Clause to support a series of citations after an inspection blitz over the summer, Michigan employers should expect enforcement to continue in a similar manner, making compliance with these rules all the more important.  Participants in this webinar will learn about the requirements of MIOSHA’s COVID-19 emergency rules and steps to take to avoid citations, including:

Continue reading

MI OSHA is the 2nd State OSH Plan to Adopt a COVID-19 Emergency Rule: How to Comply in 5 (Not-So-Easy) Steps

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Reacting quickly to the Michigan Supreme Court’s decision striking down a series of Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s COVID-19 Executive Orders, Michigan OSHA issued a series of COVID-19 emergency rules on October 14 to fill the void—many of which mirror the requirements imposed on employers by the Governor’s prior Executive Orders.  When Gov Whitmer signed the Emergency Rules Order, Michigan became only the second state in the country with a set of enforceable, COVID-19 specific regulation.

MIOSHA’s new COVID-19 emergency rules, which became effective immediately and which will remain in effect for 6 months, require employers to:

  • conduct workplace risk assessments for COVID-19 exposures;
  • develop a written exposure control plan; and
  • adopt a series of workplace protections.

“While most Michigan job providers are doing their part to slow the spread of COVID-19, these rules provide them with clarity regarding the necessary requirements to keep their workplaces safe and their employees healthy,” said Gov. Whitmer. “I will continue to work around the clock with my partners in labor and business to ensure protections for every Michigan worker.”

Because MIOSHA’s rule uses pretty vague language and is lean on detail, the agency has already begun to issue FAQs explaining what some of the provisions of the rule mean.  Here is the first batch of FAQs:

While MIOSHA had already been aggressively citing employers under the General Duty Clause over the past few months, most of those citation directly referenced Gov. Whitmer’s now-invalidated COVID-19 Executive Orders. Michigan employers can now be cited for violating these specific regulations.  At the same time, however, Republican legislators have sent a series of bills to Governor Whitmer that include liability protections for employers that comply with MI OSHA guidelines, making compliance with these rules all the more important.

Employers with operations in Michigan wishing to avoid citations should take the following 5 steps  as soon as practically possible: (1) Assess; (2) Plan; (3) Protect; (4) train; and (5) document.

STEP 1:  Conduct Workplace Assessment & Make Exposure Determinations (ASSESS)

Employers must evaluate Continue reading