Update on Fed OSHA’s COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing Emergency Rulemaking

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

Although it has only been 10 days since OSHA delivered a proposed COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing emergency temporary standard (ETS) to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), a lot has happened.  We have seen bizarre attempts by groups of individuals to try to muck up the OMB review process.  The US Department of Labor sent letters to certain states informing them that federal OSHA is considering revoking their approved status to operate their State OSH Plans.  And, President Biden’s nominee to Head OSHA, Doug Parker, is scheduled to be confirmed early next week.  Here is a summary of what we’ve been seeing and where we are now.

When Will the Vaccination and Testing ETS be Issued? 

The stakeholder input process at OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) is well underway.  OMB’s website reflecting the schedule of Executive Order 12866 meetings is normally only updated once per day, making it hard to nail down when OMB intends to conclude its review of the proposed ETS.  As of the end of last week, we heard that OMB might conclude its review process as early as last Friday, October 12th, but every day, OMB’s website updated to include more and more stakeholder meetings.  As of this morning (Friday, October 22nd), the OMB website updated again, and it did add some new scheduled OIRA EO 12866 stakeholder meetings (now up to 68 meetings), but all of the new meetings have been scheduled to be completed today by 3 PM.

It is beginning to look to us like OMB will have “completed” its review of the ETS by the end of the day today, so at this point, we think OSHA could release the pre-publication package revealing the regulatory text and the preamble of the final ETS, as early as the close of business today.

We have also been hearing Continue reading

New York HERO Act: COVID-19 Designation as Highly Contagious Communicable Disease Extended Until October 31, 2021

As we previously reported, on September 6, 2021, the New York State Commissioner of Health issued a designation determining COVID-19 to be “a highly contagious communicable disease that presents a serious risk of harm to the public health in New York State.”  Such designation triggered requirements on employers to activate their airborne infectious disease exposure prevention plans in accordance with the New York Health and Essential Rights Act (“HERO Act”).

The New York State Department of Labor (“NYDOL”) issued the HERO Act Standards and model plan, which set forth the minimum requirements employers must provide to address exposure to airborne infectious diseases in the workplace.  As explained in our prior blog post, those requirements include:

  • employee health screenings;
  • employee face coverings;
  • personal protective equipment;
  • workplace hand hygiene stations and protocols, which includes adequate break times for employees to wash their hands;
  • cleaning and disinfecting shared equipment and frequently touched surfaces and high-risk areas;
  • social distancing;
  • complying with mandatory or precautionary orders of isolation or quarantine issued to employees;
  • air flow, exhaust ventilation, or other special engineering design requirements;
  • designation of one or more supervisors with the responsibility to ensure compliance with the prevention plan and any applicable federal, state, or local laws, rules, or guidance on preventing the spread of an airborne infectious disease;
  • notice to employees; and
  • verbal review of the infectious disease standard, employer policies, and employee rights under the NY HERO Act.

Employers were required to adopt a model plan Continue reading

California Adds Increased Meal/Rest Period and Workplace Safety Protections for Warehouse Employees Subject to Production Quotas

By Ashley D. Mitchell

On September 22, 2021, California became even more labor friendly when Governor Newsom signed AB 701 which adds additional requirements to California’s existing meal and rest breaks rules for non-exempt warehouse employees. Effective January 1, 2022, employers covered by AB 701 must disclose all quotas to warehouse employees that the employee may be subject to.  Employers are subject to a rebuttable presumption of retaliation against employees who are subject to an adverse employment action within 90 days of engaging in protected activity under AB 701.  Employers must make the disclosure to each employee upon hire or within 30 days of the law going into effect.

Aimed at making large Amazon warehouses in the state safer, AB 701 covers employers with 100 or more employees at a single warehouse distribution center or 1,000 or more employees at one or more warehouse distribution centers in the state of California. Covered employers must provide to all non-exempt employees a written description of every quota the employee must comply with and may be subjected to discipline for failing to meet including “the quantified number of tasks to be performed or materials to be produced or handled, within the defined time period, and any potential adverse employment action that could result from failure to meet the quota.” For purposes of AB 701 a warehouse is classified by the following NAICS Codes: 493110 (for general warehouse and storage); 423 (for merchant wholesalers, durable goods); 424 (for merchant wholesalers, nondurable goods); or 454110 (for electronic shopping and mail order houses) but not 493130 (farm product warehousing and storage). If an employer fails to disclose an employee’s quota, the employer cannot take an adverse employment action against the employee for failure to meet that quota.

Quotas may not prevent: Continue reading

President Biden’s Broad COVID-19 “Hard” Vaccine-Mandate for Federal Contractors

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

While we have been mostly focused on the September 9th directive from President Biden to fed OSHA to issue a COVID-19 vaccination / testing emergency temporary standard, that was hardly the only major move the Administration announced on the vaccine-mandate front.  This update will focus on federal contractors – companies that provide services to the federal government through direct contracts with federal agencies and through subcontracts in support of federal contracts.

On the same day last month that Pres. Biden announced the OSHA “soft” vaccine mandate for private employers that serve only private customers, he also issued an executive order (EO) setting three new requirements for federal contractors at all tiers:

    1. Setting a “hard” vaccine mandate – “Covered Contractor Employees” must be fully vaccinated by December 8, 2021 (and thereafter before starting to work on any federal contract);
    2. Designating a COVID-19 safety coordinator to communicate requirements to employees and non-employees at your “Covered Contractor Workplaces”; and
    3. Ensuring all individuals at a “Covered Contractor Workplace” comply with CDC masking and distancing guidance.

For months now, since January 2021, contractors and subcontractors working in-person on federal property have already been required to provide a self-certification that they were fully vaccinated OR had received a recent negative COVID-19 test.  (See EO 13991 – “Protecting the Federal Workforce and Requiring Mask-Wearing”).  The new EO for federal contractors eliminates the “testing-out option” and expands the mandate beyond just federal properties to also cover private workplaces, or really any place at all, where an individual is working in support of a covered federal contract.

Only those unvaccinated employees who are “legally entitled to an accommodation” for medical or religious reasons may continue to be employed to work on federal contracts.  There are no exceptions for people who previously were infected and recovered.  Anti-body tests are not acceptable to prove vaccination status.  Under limited special circumstances involving an “urgent, mission critical need”, a federal agency may allow certain individuals who are not fully vaccinated to continue working for only up to 60 days from beginning the work on a covered contract or in a covered workplace.

Another development of this federal contractor mandate is that employers must review covered employees’ official documentation to verify vaccination status (i.e., the white card or an official record from a health department database), and self-attestation is not an acceptable substitute.

Who is covered by the various requirements of the EO? Continue reading

Q&As About Fed OSHA’s New COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing Emergency Rulemaking

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Taskforce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Taskforce

On September 9, 2021, President Biden charged federal OSHA with developing a second emergency temporary standard (ETS) requiring all but small employers in all industries but healthcare to implement “soft” vaccine mandates, i.e., to require employees to either be fully vaccinated or get weekly COVID-19 testing.  The President directed OSHA to include in this new ETS a requirement that these employers provide paid time for employees to get vaccinated and recover from the vaccine.  The President also issued executive orders mandating federal contractors and healthcare employers implement “hard” vaccine mandates.

The push now for a broader COVID-19 ETS applicable beyond just healthcare is a step for which we have been bracing for a while now.  In June, when OSHA issued its COVID-19 ETS that was limited only to the healthcare industry, the vast majority of employers dodged the bullet, but since the explosion of new cases because of the Delta variant, we began to see that bullet more as a boomerang, likely to come back around for the rest of industry.  Here are five signals we picked up that OSHA was likely to revisit its decision in June to limit its COVID-19 ETS to only healthcare employers:

    1. The rate of community transmission and COVID-19 deaths around the country has returned to the level we were experiencing in the Spring of this year when OSHA delivered to OMB a proposed ETS that was written to cover all industries.  To the extent the decline in cases and deaths was a major factor in OSHA’s decision to limit the ETS to just healthcare, that factor no longer cuts in favor of a healthcare-only rule.
    2. Between the time OSHA delivered the broad proposed ETS and the time it issued the narrow healthcare-only ETS, the CDC released groundbreaking guidance relaxing COVID-19 protocols for vaccinated individuals.  OSHA’s decision to limit the ETS to just healthcare only a month later had to be influenced by that seismic shift.  But since that time, in July, CDC backtracked on its guidance for vaccinated workers, causing OSHA to adjust its own guidance in that regard.
    3. Since issuing the ETS for healthcare, OSHA has been under pressure from national unions and worker advocacy groups to expand the ETS to all industries, both in the form of written comments during the ETS’s post-issuance comment period and a lawsuit filed by AFL-CIO challenging OSHA’s decision to limit the ETS to just healthcare.
    4. There has been a growing tension between the Biden Administration and certain Republican governors, particular DeSantis in Florida and Abbott in Texas, around mask and vaccine mandates.  The Biden Administration could resolve that tension by issuing a specific federal OSHA regulation setting requirements for masking and vaccinations, which would likely preempt conflicting state laws.
    5. The White House has changed its tune about strict COVID-19 protocols and vaccine mandates dramatically since the OSHA ETS was issued.  The Administration’s decision to limit the ETS to healthcare only was likely at least partially politically-motivated; i.e., a broad ETS was too unpopular due to the massive decline in COVID-19 cases and deaths.  However, we have started to see President Biden take politically risky moves around vaccinations; e.g., reinstituting mask recommendations for vaccinated individuals and setting a “soft” mandate for federal workers and contractors and encouraging industry to set similar mandates.  If the politics of aggressive COVID-19 requirements influenced OSHA’s decision to issue a narrow rule in June, it appears the Administration has changed its political calculation in the face of the spread of the Delta variant surge.

Those were the main signals we saw that kept us up at night worried OSHA would deliver to OMB a new or amended COVID-19 ETS that would apply to all industries.  But President Biden’s announcements yesterday sent the strongest signal yet that we will soon see further regulatory action from federal OSHA on the COVID-19 front.  A lot of questions remain, and we expect those to be answered in time as the new rules take effect, but we wanted to share with you what we know so far, as well as our preliminary thoughts/speculation about some of those questions.

What Happened Yesterday?

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

NY State Health Commissioner Designates COVID-19 as a Highly Contagious Disease That Presents Serious Risk, Prompting Employers’ HERO Act Plans to be Activated

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

On Labor Day, the New York State Commissioner of Health designated COVID-19 as a highly contagious communicable disease that presents a serious risk of harm to public health.  Under the New York HERO Act, employers must either adopt the New York State Department of Labor’s (“NYDOL”) model prevention plan or develop and establish an alternative prevention plan that equals or exceeds the requirements in the NYDOL’s model plan.

The NYDOL issued the HERO Act Standards and model plan, which set forth the minimum requirements employers must provide to address exposure to airborne infectious diseases in the workplace, on July 7, 2021.  As explained in our prior blog post, those requirements include:

  • employee health screenings;
  • employee face coverings;
  • personal protective equipment;
  • workplace hand hygiene stations and protocols, which includes adequate break times for employees to wash their hands;
  • cleaning and disinfecting shared equipment and frequently touched surfaces and high-risk areas;
  • social distancing;
  • complying with mandatory or precautionary orders of isolation or quarantine issued to employees;
  • air flow, exhaust ventilation, or other special engineering design requirements;
  • designation of one or more supervisors with the responsibility to ensure compliance with the prevention plan and any applicable federal, state, or local laws, rules, or guidance on preventing the spread of an airborne infectious disease;
  • notice to employees; and
  • verbal review of the infectious disease standard, employer policies, and employee rights under the NY HERO Act.

Employers were required to adopt a model plan or develop an individualized plan that met the Act’s requirements by August 5, 2021 and to provide the plan to employees by September 4, 2021.  Implementation of the plan, however, is only required whenever the Commissioner of Health designates an airborne infectious disease as a highly contagious communicable disease that presents serious risk of harm to public health.  As such, implementation of HERO Act plans is a bit of a moving target that employers must constantly monitor.  With total cases reaching an all-time low during the pandemic earlier this summer, the NYDOL clarified that the Commissioner of Health had not (yet) designated COVID-19 as such a disease, thus making the HERO Act Standards unenforceable.  That decision, however, has since changed as the highly transmissible Delta variant rages on and over 97% of US counties are now at substantial or high levels of community transmission.

Since the Commissioner of Health has made a designation, employers must now activate their written airborne infectious disease plans.  The HERO Act Standards detail additional steps employers must take when implementing their airborne infectious disease exposure prevention plan, including immediately reviewing their current plan; updating the plan to incorporate current information, guidance and any mandatory requirements, as appropriate; and finalizing the plan.  Employers are also required to conduct a “verbal review” of the plan’s protocols and employee rights under the Act, which is akin to a training requirement.  Finally, employers must distribute the plans to employees, post a copy of the plan in the workplace, and ensure that a copy of the plan is accessible during all work shifts.

Although it is unclear whether employers will be provided some leeway/time to ensure that their plans are reviewed, updated, and implemented in the workplace, employers should promptly take steps to comply with the Act.  As the Delta variant continues to surge throughout America, there will almost certainly be updated guidance regarding these plans from the NYDOL in the near future.

Fed OSHA’s COVID-19 ETS: Everything You Need to Know

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

We know that many of our friends in the healthcare industry are knee-deep analyzing Fed OSHA’s new COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (“ETS”) and making adjustments to COVID-19 protocols and programs to quickly come into compliance with this onerous new regulation.  Conn Maciel Carey LLP’s COVID-19 Taskforce has carefully reviewed all 1,000+ pages of the ETS, its Preamble, and the rest of the supporting documentation, and has participated in several discussions with senior leadership at OSHA about thorny provisions of the rule, so we have a good understanding of what is required.  To help you understand precisely what is required of your covered facilities, and to assist with compliance implementation, we have prepared summaries of all the major requirements of the ETS below.

Hazard Assessments and COVID-19 Plans

One of the first steps employers must take is to conduct a hazard assessment of your operations to determine those areas where risk of virus transmission exists, and to then develop a response plan for dealing with those risks.  The hazard assessment findings and your plans for transmission mitigation must be incorporated into a written COVID-19 Plan.  Here is a summary of the ETS requirements for conducting the hazard assessment and preparing a written plan.

29 C.F.R. Section 1910.502(c) requires all employers covered by the ETS to develop and implement a COVID-19 Plan for each workplace.  If the employer has more than 10 employees, the Plan must be written.  This summary describes the requirements associated with the COVID-19 Plan.

Before developing the Plan, employers must conduct a workplace specific hazard assessment for the purpose of identifying and understanding where potential COVID-19 hazards exist and what controls must be implemented to reduce those hazards.  Employers must inspect the entire workplace and the hazard assessment should: Continue reading

Employee Misconduct Defense, Discipline, and Employment Law Issues [Webinar Recording]

On August 11, 2021, Lindsay A. Disalvo and Ashley D. Mitchell presented a webinar regarding Employee Misconduct Defense, Discipline, and Employment Law Issues.

Disciplining employees, a critical tool in enforcing workplace rules, has the potential to create problems, especially when relationships deteriorate and emotions run high. Even in situations where an employer is disciplining for the right reason, if it is handled incorrectly, a costly lawsuit or labor grievance could result. Employers, however, cannot ignore misconduct and/or poor performance that negatively impacts productivity, employee morale, workplace culture, or the organization’s ability to meet key goals. Consistent employee discipline can also benefit employers in litigation, union grievances, and inspections and investigations by the EEOC and OSHA.

This webinar will give you a blueprint to lawfully discipline employee and mitigate the risk of future litigation. Participants in this webinar learned about: Continue reading

Pfizer Vaccine’s Full FDA Approval – What Does This Mean for Employers?

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Earlier this week, on August 23, 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration fully approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.   Earlier this year, many employers were hesitant to issue vaccine mandates and expressed concerns about potential legal risks associated with such a mandate since the COVID-19 vaccines were only approved for emergency use.  While the full approval designation may not change the legal landscape as it relates to vaccine mandates, many employers may feel more comfortable imposing such mandates.

As explained in our prior blog, employers can mandate employee vaccinations under federal law.  The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued guidance several months ago stating that employers generally can mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for employees who physically enter the workplace without running afoul of the federal anti-discrimination laws it enforces.  The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) also issued a slip opinion on July 6, 2021, regarding vaccination mandates and the emergency use authorization status of the vaccines:

We conclude that section 564(e)(1)(A)(ii)(III) concerns only the provision of information to potential vaccine recipients and does not prohibit public or private entities from imposing vaccination requirements for vaccines that are subject to EUAs. Continue reading

Fed OSHA’s COVID-19 ETS: What You Need to Know About Vaccination, and Patient Screening & Management

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Today’s topics on the Fed OSHA COVID-19 ETS are vaccination, and patient screening and management.

Vaccination

29 C.F.R. Section 1910.502(m) requires that all employers covered by the ETS support COVID-19 vaccination for each employee.  This summary describes the vaccination requirements of the ETS.

To support COVID-19 vaccination, employers must provide to their employees:

    • reasonable time during work hours for employees to receive COVID-19 vaccinations, and
    • paid leave for employees to receive vaccinations and any side effects experienced following vaccination (to the extent these occur during regular work hours).

“Reasonable time” may include, but is not limited to: Continue reading

Federal OSHA’s New COVID-19 ETS Standard and Updated COVID-19 Workplace Guidance [Webinar Recording]

On Wednesday, June 16, 2021, Conn Maciel Carey’s national OSHA Practice presented a webinar regarding Federal OSHA’s New COVID-19 ETS Standard and Updated COVID-19 Workplace Guidance.

On June 10th, federal OSHA finally revealed its much anticipated COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), but rather than a rule applicable to all industries, OSHA developed a regulation that is narrowly tailored only to certain healthcare settings. For everyone else, federal OSHA simultaneously published significant updates to its workplace COVID-19 guidance that it had originally prepared in Jan. 2021 in response to President Biden’s Day 1 OSHA Executive Order.

The COVID-19 ETS, and its 900+ page Preamble, is a dizzying piece of regulation.  While there are lots of generalizations about how it applies only to hospital settings, there are quirks in the Applicability section that could sweep in other employers, including on-site medical clinics at manufacturing plants, COVID-19 testing facilities in otherwise non-healthcare workplaces, and general facilities support at healthcare locations, such as maintenance, housekeeping, and laundry services.  And in terms of substantive provisions, the ETS does depart from the COVID-19 landscape we have all grown accustomed to over the past year and a half – the ETS requires creation of new roles, will likely require updates to written prevention plans and training, may require new engineering installations and work on HVAC systems, and will definitely affect record making, recordkeeping, and reporting policies.

The updated guidance for all other industries will also likely result in material changes to the way employers are managing the COVID-19 crisis in the workplace.  However, those will be mostly welcome changes, as, at its core, OSHA’s updated guidance aligns OSHA’s recommendations with the CDC’s May guidance regarding dropping masks and distancing for fully vaccinated workers.  But the devil is in the details.

Participants in this webinar learned the following: Continue reading

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

By: Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Taskforce

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

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

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

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

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

Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 ETS To Be Updated This Week — And They Mean It This Time

By Andrew J. Sommer and Eric J. Conn

We are barreling towards major changes to Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 requirements for California employers expected to take effect on Thursday or Friday of this week.

After the back and forth with the last revised ETS that was voted down, then approved minutes later, the clawed back a few days later to make way for another revised ETS, late last week, Cal/OSHA released the new revised text for its COVID-19 ETS.

The text of what appears now to become the official updated version of Cal/OSHA COVID-19 ETS is available here, and a redline comparison with the presently effective text is here.  Additionally, DOSH has just issued these FAQs clarifying the intent of the proposed revised COVID-19 ETS.

Below is our summary of the major substantive changes coming to the ETS, as compared to the prior proposed revisions (subsequently withdrawn), as well as highlighted guidance that interprets or expands on these anticipated new regulatory requirements.

Substantive Revisions to the ETS Text

As expected, these latest changes were limited given the short window for issuing revisions following the Standards Board’s special meeting earlier this week.  We understood Continue reading

Is Your Workplace Covered by Fed OSHA’s New COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard?

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Nearly 16 months after the pandemic began, federal OSHA revealed its COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (the ETS) that imposes a series of requirements on healthcare employers.  While OSHA’s issuance of an ETS comes as no surprise to many who have been tracking the agency since Pres. Biden’s inauguration, the fact that it applies only to the healthcare sector and not to all industries is not what we expected.  Looking back, the promulgation of an ETS applicable to all workplaces seemed a foregone conclusion when President Biden took office in January and issued an Executive Order that same day directing OSHA to update its COVID-19 guidance, adopt a COVID-19 National Emphasis Program, evaluate whether an ETS was necessary and, if so, issue the ETS on or before March 15, 2021.

On April 27, 2021, OSHA delivered to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) an ETS, which, by all accounts, was a broad rule applicable to all industries, but because this was an emergency rulemaking, the proposed regulatory text was not available to the public.  In the weeks that followed, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), within OMB, hosted a series of meetings to hear from stakeholders regarding a proposed rule they had not seen.  On behalf of the Employers COVID-19 Prevention Coalition, Conn Maciel Carey organized and led two OIRA meetings at which we and our coalition members provided input and recommendations to OSHA and OMB.  As the meetings continued, the success of the vaccine rollout became clearer, with a corresponding drop in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, and then came the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) game-changing guidance on May 13, 2021 relaxing protocols for vaccinated individuals.  All of this caused many to question whether an OSHA ETS was still necessary.  With conditions on the ground improving rapidly, we continued to help stakeholder schedule and participate in OIRA meetings to argue that a general industry ETS was no longer needed.

On June 10, 2011, after more than 50 OIRA meetings, a final ETS applicable only to the healthcare industry was sent to the Office of the Federal Register for publication.  The standard appears at 29 C.F.R. Section 1910.502, and will appear in the Federal Register within a couple of weeks.

Explaining the purpose of the ETS for Healthcare, U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh offered this statement: Continue reading

State COVID-19 Regulations Multiply as Fed. OSHA Declines to Adopt General Industry COVID-19 Regulations

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Well over a year after the pandemic began, federal OSHA has declined to adopt a set of COVID-19 regulations for general industry.  Shape,3d,Of,State,Of,New,York,Map,With,FlagJust yesterday, federal OSHA announced that it had “completed” the rulemaking process for the COVID-19 emergency temporary standard, which will only apply to healthcare industry employers.  This long awaited rule is expected to be released later today.  While federal OSHA has been evaluating whether a COVID-19 ETS is even necessary, several states have been aggressive in passing their own workplace safety and health rules related to COVID-19.  Most recently, New York State passed the New York Health and Essential Rights Act (HERO Act), which went into effect just last week on June 4, 2021.  New York State joins a number of states that have promulgated COVID-19 regulations, including California, Virginia, Oregon, Michigan, and, in the near future, Maryland.  In light of federal OSHA’s decision to adopt COVID-19 regulations solely related to the health care industry, several other states may take action to implement their own COVID-19 regulations.  New York State’s HERO Act, however, goes even one step further.  The HERO Act is not solely focused on COVID-19, it addresses any and all airborne infectious diseases.

New York is also the first state in the country to require its Department of Labor to develop “industry-specific” health and safety standards for private sector employers to reduce the risk of airborne illnesses for employees (including but not limited to COVID-19).  New York employers should move quickly to adopt safety and health plans and revise employee handbooks to conform with the Act’s requirements.  Below is an overview of the key provisions of the Act. Continue reading

EEOC Updates COVID-19 Vaccination Guidance

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Last week, Conn Maciel Carey posted a blog article about How to Navigate the Thorny Legal Landscape Around Employee Vaccination Status.  One of the observation in that article was that we were all on the edge of our seats waiting for the EEOC to issue promised guidance about employer incentives and mandates about the COVID-19 vaccination.  On Friday, the EEOC finally issued much-anticipated updated FAQs about the legal landscape of various employer vaccinations policies.

Here is a summary of the vaccine section of the guidance:

May employers ask employees about vaccination status under federal law?  See FAQs K9, K5, K15, K16, K18, K19

  • Yes – does not violate ADA or GINA.
  • However, employer should not ask “why” an employee is unvaccinated, as this could compel the employee to reveal disability information that is protected under the ADA and/or GINA.
  • Recommended practice: If employer requires documentation or other confirmation of vaccination, “notify all employees that the employer will consider requests for reasonable accommodation based on disability on an individualized basis.”

Is vaccination information “confidential” under the ADA?  See FAQ K4

  • Yes, this includes documentation (i.e., the white vaccination card)  or “other confirmation” of vaccination, which we presume means any self-attestation form or email from the employee, as well as any record, matrix, spreadsheet, or checklist created by the employer after viewing employees’ vaccination cards or receiving a verbal confirmations from employees.
  • The records or information must be kept confidential and stored separately from employee personnel files.

How may employers encourage employees and family members to get vaccinated?  See FAQ K3 Continue reading

How to Navigate the Thorny Legal Landscape Around Employee Vaccination Status

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

As the number of vaccinated individuals continues to increase and we are seeing a significant decrease in COVID-19 cases, the landscape of legal requirements applicable to employers and employees is changing, particularly related to employees who are fully vaccinated.  Indeed, in an unexpected update to its guidance last week, the CDC stated that fully vaccinated individuals may resume essentially all indoor and outdoor pre-pandemic activities in almost all circumstances.  Although federal agencies such as OSHA and the EEOC have not yet updated their relevant guidance on treatment of vaccinated workers to reflect these changes, they both have stated their intent to address, and in OSHA’s case follow, the CDC guidance, and many states are doing the same.

Accordingly, employers now, more than ever, must understand and may want to take certain actions based on the vaccination status of their workers.  However, obtaining information on an employee’s status and using that information to dictate policies and practices in the work environment has legal implications and raises many important questions that could pose difficulties for employers who want to ensure that they proceed in compliance with applicable laws.  Below, we provide answers to questions we have received related to employee vaccination status as well as tips to effectively deal with these novel and complex issues.

[6/1/21 UPDATE – Check out our newer article about updated EEOC vaccination guidance that touches on many of these same issues.]

Question 1: Can employers ask employees about their COVID-19 vaccination status?

Yes, but employers should be mindful of compliance with federal and state laws on disability, privacy and discrimination.  If the employer requests confirmation and/or proof that an employee has been fully vaccinated, this should be a simple, straightforward inquiry to determine an employee’s current vaccination status.  Such a simple, general inquiry is legitimate and would be considered permissible under applicable employment laws, particularly if it is made to determine whether: Continue reading

CDC Drops Mask and Distancing Requirements for Fully Vaccinated Individuals — What About the Workplace?

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

By now you have likely heard the big news that yesterday, May 13th, the CDC updated guidance related to masks and physical distancing for individuals who are fully vaccinated (i.e., two weeks after receiving a single-dose vaccine or after the second dose in a two-dose series).  Specifically, in its updated guidance — “Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People” — the CDC now says fully vaccinated individuals may resume essentially all indoor and outdoor pre-pandemic activities in almost all circumstances.  As of now, there is no outside limit to one’s status as fully vaccinated.

In a public video released just before the CDC posted its updated written guidance, CDC Director Dr. Walensky shared that “based on data about vaccine effectiveness and the low risk of transmission to others, and universal access to vaccines today, the CDC is updating our guidance for fully vaccinated individuals.  Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities—large or small—without wearing a mask or physical distancing.”  Even in the case of “breakthrough” infections, Dr. Walensky acknowledged that there is likely low risk of transmission to others.  Dr. Walensky cautioned that “over the past year, we saw how unpredictable this virus can be, so we may have to change these recommendations if things get worse.”

What Does This Mean For Workplaces?

The question everyone is asking is whether this updated guidance applies to employees and workplaces.  The best answer we can give now is that the guidance does technically apply to workplaces, but there is a significant exception relative to workplaces built into the new guidance that swallows most of the relief it purports to provide, at least for now in many jurisdictions. Here’s our analysis about why this new guidance does apply to workplaces, but how geographically limited the relief is for the time being. Continue reading

Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard and Vaccinated Workers

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

As the number of vaccinated workers continues to rise, and despite guidance from the CDC lifting certain restrictions against fully vaccinated individuals, Cal/OSHA’s current official position, as reflected in its COVID-19 ETS FAQs, is that “[f]or now, all prevention measures must continue to be implemented” for vaccinated persons.  The same set of FAQs, however, also informs us that “[t]he impact of vaccines will likely be addressed in a future revision to the ETS.”  See Cal/OSHA COVID-19 ETS FAQs “Vaccines” FAQ #1.

Following the February 11, 12, and 16 Cal/OSHA COVID-19 ETS Advisory Committee meetings, in which CMC participated on behalf of our California Employers COVID-19 Prevention Coalition, Deputy Chief of Cal/OSHA Research and Standards shared an updated version of a “Discussion Draft” of the ETS that reflects changes under consideration by the agency.  The issue of how vaccinated employees should be treated under the ETS was a major topic of discussion during the Advisory Committee meetings, and potential changes to the ETS around that are reflected in notes in the Discussion Draft.

While the notes are not necessarily proposed amended regulatory text (rather, they largely incorporate committee members’ feedback ), reading the tea leaves from the Advisory Committee meetings, it is clear that Cal/OSHA Continue reading

Five Important Updates About Federal OSHA and Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Recordkeeping

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

It has been a little while since we last shared an update about COVID-19 recordkeeping issues. Since Fed OSHA issued its COVID-19 recordkeeping guidance in May 2020 and Cal/OSHA issued its controversial COVID-19 Recordkeeping FAQs with unique, more onerous requirements in June, the agencies have been mostly quiet about COVID-19 recordkeeping. But that does not mean there have not been significant developments in that area or that there are no important developments to monitor closely.

Here are five notable OSHA and Cal/OSHA COVID-19 recordkeeping updates that we wanted to share with you:

1.  Congressional Intervention About Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 Recordkeeping FAQs

As we explained last year, Cal/OSHA’s May 27th COVID-19 Recordkeeping FAQs departed from Fed OSHA’s COVID-19 recordkeeping requirements in two key ways: (i) rejecting Fed OSHA’s recordability precondition of a positive COVID test; and (ii) flipping the burden of establishing work-relatedness on its head, setting instead a presumption of Cal-OSHA RK FAQSwork-relatedness if any workplace exposure can be identified, even if the cause of the illness is just as likely to be attributable to a non-work exposure.

Aside from being bad policy that will result in many non-work related illnesses being recorded on California employers’ 300 Logs, Cal/OSHA is not legally permitted to deviate from Fed OSHA’s recordkeeping requirements.

The latest big development on that front was a helpful letter from the U.S. Department of Labor responding to an inquiry about this issue from a group of California Congressmen, in which DOL confirms that Cal/OSHA should be following the same recordkeeping requirements as Fed OSHA. Despite the clear statements in Cal/OSHA’s FAQs that a “confirmed case” is not required for recordkeeping and that work-relatedness should be presumed, the federal Department of Labor explained in its letter to the Congressmen: Continue reading

Status Update About OSHA’s Emergency COVID-19 Rulemaking

By Eric J. Conn

We are sure many of you have been on the edge of your seat waiting for news about OSHA’s COVID-19 emergency temporary standard, which was expected to be issued by next Monday, March 15th  per Pres. Biden’s Day-1 OSHA Executive Order (EO).  So that you might be able to enjoy your weekend, we wanted to share with you the latest we are hearing about the status of the emergency rulemaking.

Status of Rulemaking

As we expected, the process OSHA is following (an emergency rulemaking with some time pressure set by Pres. Biden) does not include an opportunity for a formal pre-rule public notice-and-comment period.  Nevertheless, the rule still needs to go to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for approval before it is issued and can go into effect.  That likely means that the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) within OMB will provide for stakeholder input in some form pursuant to Executive Order 12866.  As of now, OMB’s website still does not reflect a docket entry for OSHA’s COVID-19 ETS, and we have not otherwise heard or seen anything that would indicate the proposed rule has been delivered to OMB.  To monitor that, here is a link to OMB’s page about regulations under EO 12866 review — scroll down to the Department of Labor section of rules.

We also have started to hear through the rumor-mill that OSHA understand the Executive Order to require Continue reading

Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard Survives Two Legal Challenges

By Andrew Sommer, Eric Conn, and Beeta Lashkari

On February 25, 2021, Superior Court Judge Ethan Schulman officially ruled on two requests for preliminary injunctions against the implementation of Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 emergency temporary standard (ETS), denying the injunctive relief sought in both cases.

Two separate legal challenges to the ETS were filed a couple of weeks after the rule was adopted by the Cal/OSHA Standards Board.  The first was filed by the National Retail Federation and others, alleging generally that an emergency rule was not necessary and appropriate; i.e., the agency had not asserted facts adequate to establish the existence of an emergency, and therefore, the rushed rulemaking process that ignored stakeholder input was not lawful.  It also alleged that Cal/OSHA overstepped its jurisdictional authority with respect to the ETS provisions mandating wage and benefits continuation.

The second legal challenge was filed by the Western Growers Association and other agricultural interests.  This lawsuit similarly challenged the legality of an emergency rule in this context and the pay and benefits provisions.  It also attacked the provisions regarding employer-provided housing and transportation.

In a 40-page order, Judge Schulman rejected all of the plaintiffs’ arguments, commenting, “No federal or state court in the country has blocked emergency public health orders intended to curb the spread of COVID-19, and the illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths that follow in its wake.  This Court will not be the first.  Lives are at stake.”  Indeed, the cases faced long odds, with Judge Schulman Continue reading