OSHA’s COVID-19 Emergency and Permanent Standards and Enforcement [Webinar Recording]

On Thursday, February 10, 2022, Eric J. ConnKate McMahonAaron Gelb and Amanda Strainis-Walker presented a webinar regarding OSHA’s COVID-19 Emergency and Permanent Standards and Enforcement.

As US employers grapple with the latest surge of COVID-19 cases from the Omicron variant, they are also left to grapple with uncertainty following the Supreme Court’s decision to reinstitute a Stay of OSHA’s Vaccinate-or-Test ETS. Will we see another COVID-19 emergency rule that tries to navigate the guardrails set by the Supreme Court? Will OSHA return to aggressive enforcement under the OSH Act’s General Duty Clause? What is expected from employers on the COVID-19 front to avoid OSHA enforcement?

During this webinar, attorneys from CMC’s COVID-19 Task Force provided a detailed analysis of OSHA’s regulatory and enforcement landscape post-Supreme Court. Specifically, we addressed these important questions raised by the latest developments on the COVID-19 front: Continue reading

[WEBINAR] OSHA’s COVID-19 Emergency and Permanent Standards and Enforcement

On Thursday, February 10, 2022 at 1 p.m. EST, join Eric J. Conn, Kate McMahon, Aaron Gelb and Amanda Strainis-Walker for a webinar regarding OSHA’s COVID-19 Emergency and Permanent Standards and Enforcement.

As US employers grapple with the latest surge of COVID-19 cases from the Omicron variant, they are also left to grapple with uncertainty following the Supreme Court’s decision to reinstitute a Stay of OSHA’s Vaccinate-or-Test ETS. Will we see another COVID-19 emergency rule that tries to navigate the guardrails set by the Supreme Court? Will OSHA return to aggressive enforcement under the OSH Act’s General Duty Clause? What is expected from employers on the COVID-19 front to avoid OSHA enforcement?

During this webinar, attorneys from CMC’s COVID-19 Task Force will provide a detailed analysis of OSHA’s regulatory and enforcement landscape post-Supreme Court. Specifically, we will address these important questions raised by the latest developments on the COVID-19 front: Continue reading

OSHA’s 2021 Year in Review and 2022 Forecast [Webinar Recording]

On January 12, 2022, the Partners in Conn Maciel Carey’s national OSHA Practice Group on presented the kickoff event in Conn Maciel Carey’s 2022 OSHA Webinar series.  This first program of the year, as is tradition, was OSHA’s 2021 Year in Review and 2022 Forecast.

As we kickoff Year 2 of the Biden Administration, it is time to look back and take stock of what we learned from and about OSHA during the very eventful year that just concluded.  And more importantly, it is time to look ahead and assess what to expect from OSHA now that OSHA’s full senior leadership team is in place and ready to put its stamp on the agency.

In this webinar, the Partners in Conn Maciel Carey’s national OSHA Practice Group reviewed OSHA enforcement, rulemaking, and personnel developments from 2021. We also discussed the top OSHA issues employers should monitor and prepare for in the New Year.

Participants in this webinar learned about: Continue reading

Conn Maciel Carey’s 2022 OSHA Webinar Series

ANNOUNCING CONN MACIEL CAREY’S
2022 OSHA WEBINAR SERIES

A full year into the Biden Administration, the senior leadership team at federal OSHA is set, the agency’s new regulatory agenda has been revealed, and the enforcement landscape has begun to take shape, revealing a dramatic shift in priorities, including stronger enforcement, higher budgets and more robust policies protecting workers, and a renewed focus on new rulemaking. Following an Administration that never installed an Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, relied almost exclusively on the General Duty Clause to enforce COVID-19 safety measures, drastically curtailed rulemaking, and declined to issue an emergency COVID-19 standard, the pendulum swing at OSHA has already been more pronounced than during past transitions. Accordingly, it is more important now than ever before for employers to stay attuned to developments at OSHA.

Conn Maciel Carey LLP’s complimentary 2022 OSHA Webinar Series, which includes monthly programs (sometimes more often, if events warrant) put on by the OSHA-focused attorneys in the firm’s national OSHA Practice Group, is designed to give employers insight into developments at OSHA during this period of unpredictability and significant change.

To register for an individual webinar in the series, click on the link in the program description below, or to register for the entire 2022 series, click here to send us an email request so we can get you registered.  If you missed any of our programs over the past seven years of our annual OSHA Webinar Series, here is a link to a library of webinar recordings.  If your organization or association would benefit from an exclusive program presented by our team on any of the subjects in this year’s webinar series or any other important OSHA-related topic, please do not hesitate to contact us.


2022 OSHA Webinar Series – Program Schedule

Continue reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We now have a clearer picture of Continue reading

FAQs About OSHA’s COVID-19 Vaccination, Testing, and Face Coverings Emergency Temporary Standard

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

In a Friday night surprise (December 17th), the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit dissolved the nationwide stay of OSHA’s Vaccination, Testing, and Face Coverings ETS, so the ETS is alive and well (unless the U.S. Supreme Court puts it back on ice).  Accordingly, it is time for employers to take the steps necessary to come into compliance with the ETS.  To help our clients and friends in industry, Conn Maciel Carey LLP’s national OSHA Practice has created this extensive set of Q&As about OSHA’s COVID-19 Vaccinate-or-Test ETS.

The Q&A document addresses the current status of the ETS and the legal challenges to it, who is covered and who is exempted from the rule, the core elements of the ETS (i.e., what is required and prohibited by the ETS, when the requirements kick-in, etc.), and other issues around enforcement and compliance strategy.

In addition to this FAQ resource, we have also been working with dozens of companies to help them develop custom, compliant written COVID-19 Vaccination, Testing, and Face Coverings Policies, along with the necessary ancillary forms, as required by the ETS.  We have a questionnaire that we can work through with you to understand and make the best policy choices for your organization (e.g., what cap you will set for paid recovery time; whether to supply test kits to employees or require them to take tests offsite; how you will communicate to employees the information required to be shared; etc.), and with those answers, we develop a customized written program including: Continue reading

[BREAKING] Sixth Circuit Rescinds Stay of OSHA’s Vaccinate-or-Test Emergency Temporary Standard

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

We apologize for interrupting what we hoped be a quiet, pre-holiday weekend for everyone, but we have very important and time sensitive news to share about the status of OSHA’s Vaccination, Testing, and Face Coverings Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS).  It was a very busy Friday night for everyone in the OSHA world.  In a remarkable turn of events, at 6:50 PM yesterday evening (December 17th), the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit dissolved the nationwide stay of OSHA’s Vaccination ETS that had been issued by the Fifth Circuit in November.

The Department of Labor and OSHA then immediately issued a statement that OSHA was moving forward with implementation and enforcement of the ETS, but also provided some enforcement relief for companies able to demonstrate good faith efforts to comply.  Then, within an hour of the Sixth Circuit decision being released, numerous parties filed an emergency application and motion with the US Supreme Court requesting the Supreme Court reissue a stay of the ETS.  And then, finally, shortly after midnight (approximately 1 AM last night), South Carolina along with 26 other State Attorneys General and a host of private entities also filed an emergency application for a stay.  What a night.

We briefly summarize the Sixth Circuit’s decision below and explain the lay of the land as it stands at this moment, what might occur next and, most importantly, what this means for employers across the nation.  Bottom line is that events are moving fast, but as we said a few weeks ago, do not put a fork in the ETS, and continue to prepare to come into compliance with it.  It is alive and well, at least until we hear from the Supreme Court.

Sixth Circuit Decision 

In a 2-1 opinion written by Obama-appointee Judge Jane Stranch and, notably, joined by Bush appointee Judge Julia Gibbons, the Sixth Circuit rescinded the nationwide stay of OSHA’s ETS that had been issued by the Fifth Circuit first an administrative stay on November 6th and then as a TRO on November 12th. The three-judge panel that heard the case consisted of one Obama appointee, one Bush (W.) appointee, and one Trump appointee.  Judge Gibbons (the Bush appointee) joined Judge Stranch, but she also wrote a separate concurring opinion.  Trump-appointee Judge Joan Larsen, who had purportedly been on a Trump’s short-list of potential nominees to the Supreme Court, dissented.

In a nutshell, the Court’s rationale for lifting the stay is that Continue reading

Employment Law Implications of the OSHA ETS: Medical and Religious Accommodation Requests

By Ashley D. Mitchell

Published in the Federal Register on November 5, 2021, the Federal OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard on Vaccination and Testing (“ETS”) first major compliance deadline was December 6, 2021. However, as a result of a stay entered by the 5th Circuit, and the 6th Circuit’s refusal to grant the Biden Administration’s petition to move up the briefing schedule, OSHA cannot begin enforcing, and has ceased all action, including answering employer questions about, the standard. (For continued updates on the status of the ETS review our Employer Defense Report and OSHA Defense Report.) Accommodation,Sign,With,Sky,BackgroundAs outlined in greater detail in a previous blog, the ETS generally requires employers with 100 or more employees to: develop employer policies on vaccination; provide paid time off for vaccination and to recover from vaccination; require employees to provide proof of full vaccination or submit to weekly testing; require unvaccinated workers to wear a face covering; remove COVID-19 positive cases from the workplace; and inform employees about the requirements of the ETS, COVID-19 vaccine efficacy and safety, prohibited retaliation, and the criminal penalties associated with knowingly supplying false statements or documentation. Given the robust requirements of the ETS, employers would be well advised to put in place mechanisms for compliance with the ETS in the event the stay is lifted, particularly if there is no delay in compliance deadlines. One important consideration is how to handle ETS-related medical and religious accommodation requests.

1. Background

Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) requires employers to provide a reasonable accommodation, so long as it does not Continue reading

Cal/OSHA Standards Board to Consider Revised COVID-19 Emergency Rule for Re-adoption

CaptureThe Cal/OSHA Standards Board has issued a revised draft of the COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) for a second re-adoption.  This draft shows in underlined text the latest proposed changes from the current emergency regulation (not the October draft text discussed in our prior blog post).  The second re-adoption of the ETS, if adopted, will be effective from January 14, 2022 to April 14, 2022, and then could be replaced by a “permanent” COVID-19 rule.

At its December 16, 2021 meeting, the Standards Board will consider this proposed revised ETS, as well as discuss the proposed “permanent” COVID-19 rule being considered to replace the ETS once the emergency rule expires.

Below are the areas where the ETS text proposed for a second re-adoption materially departs from the current rule: Continue reading

Employment Law Implications of the OSHA ETS: Paying for COVID-19 Testing

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Taskforce

As the OSHA COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing emergency temporary standard (“ETS”) works its way through the courts in pending legal challenges, employers are still scrambling to position themselves in the event the ETS goes back into effect.  (Review our Employer Defense Report and OSHA Defense Report for full background on the ETS and the most recent updates on its current status.)  A key issue to consider is the cost of testing.

Background

Should the ETS go back into effect, employers with 100 or more employees must implement a program to facilitate (1) a COVID-19 vaccination requirement for all employees (known as a “hard mandate”) or (2) a combination of a COVID-19 vaccination requirement and weekly testing, plus face covering requirement, for those employees who choose not to get vaccinated (known as a “soft mandate”).  Under this soft-vaccine mandate, an employee may only report to the workplace after demonstrating either: proof of being fully vaccinated; or for employees who do not get vaccinated or decline to share their vaccination status, proof of a negative COVID-19 test result from within the last week.  Employees who are not fully vaccinated must also wear face coverings when indoors and when occupying a vehicle with another person for work purposes.

Under the ETS, a COVID-19 test must be: Continue reading

Update on Challenges to Federal Contractor Mandate

By Fern Fleischer-Daves

*As of 12/18/21, the federal contractor mandate is currently subject to federal court injunctions. 

While we remain focused on the legal challenges now consolidated at the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, quite a lot has been going on with regard to the Federal Contractor Mandate which is facing its own set of challenges.

Did you recently receive a request to amend an existing federal contract? 

If so, you are not alone!  Over the past few weeks, federal administrative agencies have been busy sending emails to tens of thousands of federal contractors seeking to amend existing federal contracts by implementing a COVID-19 vaccination mandate pursuant to guidance issued by the Safer Federal Workforce Taskforce.  These efforts are now being tracked through a new online interactive dashboard reflecting whether or not the 17,000+ contracts currently administered by GSA have been amended.  The contracts in this publicly accessible database are classified as  “Accepted”, “Closed/Cancelled”, or “Pending.”  Meanwhile, federal agency contracting officers are being strongly encouraged to check this database before placing new orders.

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Needless to say, there are potentially serious consequences for a current federal contractor who fails to respond or declines to accept the vaccination mandate.  GSA has warned that company names flagged as “Closed/Cancelled” in this database may be removed or hidden in other federal contracting tools which will make it difficult if not impossible to get any new orders on existing contracts. Recent solicitations for new federal contracts have the clause implementing EO 14042 already included in the terms and conditions.

Employees of federal contractors challenge EO 14042

While several cases have been filed to challenge the President’s authority to mandate vaccinations for federal employees and/or contractors, so far, none have secured a stay of EO 14042.

In Altschuld v. Raimondo, employees of more than a dozen different federal agencies and two unnamed government contractors are challenging both Executive Orders 14042 and 14043.  Last week, Judge Chutkan in the DC Circuit Court held that plaintiffs failed to show irreparable harm, since they had all requested religious exemptions from the vaccination mandate, so they are not entitled to a preliminary injunction.  Explaining further, the Court noted that: Continue reading

OSHA’s COVID-19 Vaccination, Testing, and Face Coverings Emergency Temporary Standard [Webinar Recording]

On November 10, 2021, Eric Conn, Kate McMahon, and Lindsay DiSalvo presented a webinar regarding OSHA’s new COVID-19 vaccinate-or-test emergency rule.

In September, 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 was a directive to federal OSHA to develop another COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard requiring many employers to implement a “soft” vaccine mandate; i.e., to require employees to either be fully vaccinated or submit to a weekly testing. The President also directed OSHA to include in this new ETS a requirement that employers provide paid time off for employees to get vaccinated and recover from any side effects of the vaccine.

OSHA moved quickly in response to the President’s directive, and published the final ETS in the Federal Register on November 5, 2021. During this webinar, the attorneys from CMC’s OSHA and Employment Law practices provided a detailed analysis of the rule and addressed these important questions raised by the latest development on the COVID-19 front:
Continue reading

OSHA Issues Its COVID-19 Vaccination, Testing, and Face Coverings Emergency Temporary Standard

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

At long last, OSHA has revealed its COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing emergency regulation.  The Federal Register site has updated to show the pre-publication package, which is set to run officially in the Federal Register tomorrow, November 5th.  The 490-page package includes the Preamble and economic analysis of the regulation, as well as the regulatory text.  The regulatory text begins on PDF page 473.  Also here is a Fact Sheet about the ETS issued simultaneously by the White House.

We are extremely pleased to report that the rule aligns very well with positions for which CMC’s Employers COVID-19 Prevention Coalition advocated to OSHA and OMB on the most significant topics, like the responsibility for the cost of COVID-19 testing and a delayed implementation date, as well as very narrow record-preservation requirements, grandfathering of prior vaccine-verification efforts, and other elements. OSHA and the White House clearly listened to our views and the compelling rational we put forward for these positions, making the rule a much better, more effective and less burdensome one for employers.

Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force will be conducting a webinar about the ETS on Wednesday, November 10th at 1:00 PM ET.  Here is a link to register for that program.

In the meantime, below is a detailed summary of the rule:

What is the stated purpose of the regulation?

The ETS is “intended to establish minimum vaccination, vaccination verification, face covering, and testing requirements to address the grave danger of COVID-19 in the workplace, and to preempt inconsistent state and local requirements relating to these issues, including requirements that ban or limit employers’ authority to require vaccination, face covering, or testing, regardless of the number of employees.”

Who is covered?

As the president signaled in his announcement and action plan from September 9, the ETS applies only to employers with 100 or more employees, and the rule does make it explicit that the way you count those employees is on a company–wide basis, not establishment-by-establishment.

Continue reading

As OSHA Finalizes Its Vaccination ETS, the EEOC Updates Guidance on Religious Exemptions to Vaccine-Mandates

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

Earlier this week, the EEOC finally updated its guidance on Title VII and Religious Objections to COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates, which will impact how employers will implement their various vaccination, testing, and masking requirements.

US law has long-recognized an exemption from mandatory work policies (including vaccine-mandates) based on sincerely held religious beliefs, pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (and equivalent state statutes). For employers, evaluating religious exemption requests can be tricky (certainly trickier than requests for medical/disability-based exemptions), as there is often no readily verifiable evidence to help ascertain whether an employee’s religious objection to the work policy is a sincerely held religious belief (or even a religious belief at all). Indeed, although it is permissible to attempt to obtain a supporting statement from a religious leader or another member of their community who is familiar with the employee’s belief system, and employee is not required to provide such a statement, as they may not be affiliated with an organized religion. Furthermore, as an end-around to COVID-19 vaccine-mandates, many employees nationwide are attempting to seek a religious exemption when their actual objections are really based in political, ethical, or personal beliefs.

In response to requests from the regulated community, the EEOC has attempted to provide more clarity so that employers can have more confidence in implementing their accommodations process, and in many instances, to push back on suspect claims by employees of the need for a religious exemption. The guidance does offer some useful tools for employers, but unfortunately, it is not as helpful as we had hoped it might be.

The theme of the EEOC’s updated guidance is that employers must make an individualized evaluation of each employee’s request for a religious accommodation. The EEOC renewed Continue reading

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

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

*As of 12/18/21, the federal contractor mandate is currently subject to federal court injunctions. 

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 January 18, 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

[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

Fed OSHA’s COVID-19 ETS: What You Need to Know About Health Screening and Medical Management

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Today’s topic on the Fed OSHA COVID-19 ETS is health screening and medical management.

29 C.F.R. Section 1910.502(l) sets forth employee screening, employer/employee notification, medical removal, medical removal protection benefits, and return-to-work requirements.  This summary describes those requirements of the ETS.

A. Employee Screening

Employers have discretion in choosing whether to implement self-monitoring and/or in-person screening.  Employers who choose to have employees self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms can assist employees in that effort by providing them with a short fact sheet to remind them of the symptoms of concern.  Employers may also consider posting a sign stating that any employee entering the workplace certifies that they do not have symptoms of COVID-19, to reinforce the obligation to self-screen before entering the workplace.

Employers who choose to conduct in-person employee screening for COVID-19 symptoms may use methods such as temperature checks and asking the employee if they are experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19.  Employers should conduct this screening before employees come into contact with others in the workplace, such as co-workers, patients, or visitors.

To the extent employers choose to conduct onsite screening, there are important safety considerations to take into account.  Continue reading

Fed OSHA’s COVID-19 ETS: What You Need to Know About Training

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Today’s topic on the Fed OSHA COVID-19 ETS is training.

Training:

29 C.F.R. Section 1910.502(n) requires that all employers covered by the ETS provide training to their employees.  To the extent that the employer has already provided training and that training is compliant with the standard, the employer does not need to re-train employees.  This summary describes the training requirements of the ETS.

If the employer has already provided training related to COVID-19, but the previous training did not cover all the elements required by the ETS, the employer must offer training on the elements it had not previously addressed.

As with other OSHA standards, the training required by the ETS must be administered at a literacy level and in a language employees understand.  The trainer must be a person knowledgeable in the topics covered by the training and how they apply to the employee’s specific job tasks.  Additionally, the training should be interactive, providing an opportunity for interactive questions and answers.  An employer may satisfy the interactive requirement even if the employer offers a virtual training if the employer makes available a qualified trainer to address questions after the training or offers a telephone hotline where employees may ask questions.

The training must be designed to allow employees to understand the following: Continue reading

Fed OSHA’s COVID-19 ETS: What You Need to Know About Ventilation

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Today’s topic on the Fed OSHA COVID-19 ETS is ventilation.

Ventilation

29 C.F.R. Section 1910.502(k) establishes ventilation requirements for covered facilities.  This summary describes the standard’s requirements for ventilation.

The ventilation provisions of the ETS do not require employers to purchase new HVAC systems or to reconfigure existing duct work to comply with the standard.  Rather, employers are required simply to increase indoor ventilation to the maximum extent possible on existing systems. New filtration equipment may be required, however, depending on the existing air filters in an HVAC system.

OSHA ventilation requirements are based on the concern that, without adequate ventilation, continued exhalation can cause the amount of infectious smaller droplets and particles produced by people with COVID-19 to become concentrated enough in the air to spread the virus to other people.  OSHA explained in the preamble that the more outdoor air the HVAC system is capable of drawing into the building, the greater the impact may be on limiting the potential for the virus to accumulate.

Accordingly, the ETS establishes five main requirements that employers who own or control buildings or structures with an existing heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system(s) must follow to comply with the ETS: 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

Is Your Workplace Covered by Fed OSHA’s New COVID-19 ETS for Healthcare?

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

[RESCHEDULED] Cal/OSHA’S Revised COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard

Because the Cal/OSHA Standards Board has just pulled back the revisions to the Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) and will consider other revisions at its June 17th meeting, we have rescheduled our webinar “Cal/OSHA’s Revised COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard” for June 18, 2021, at 10 a.m. PT.

As background, the Standards Board voted to withdraw the recently approved revised version of the ETS.  The Division is going to introduce by Friday June 11th a new proposed revised ETS that better aligns with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and California Department of Public Health guidance (i.e., no masking for fully vaccinated workers even if there are some unvaccinated people present).  The new revised ETS that is expected to issue will be voted on at the Board’s next scheduled meeting on June 17th and, if approved, go into effect on June 28th.  Between now and June 28th, the original ETS remains in effect.

Check out the updated description and register below. 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