[BREAKING] Fifth Circuit Orders a Stay of OSHA’s COVID-19 Vaccination, Testing, and Face Coverings ETS

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Emphasizing that the extraordinary power afforded to OSHA under the emergency provisions of the OSH Act should be delicately exercised, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued a 22-page opinion late yesterday, November 12th, reaffirming after briefing by both parties the Stay of OSHA’s COVID-19 Vaccination, Testing, and Face Coverings emergency temporary standard (ETS) that it had ordered on November 6th. The Fifth Circuit panel ordered that OSHA may take no further steps to implement or enforce its newly issued ETS until further court order, and thus may not require employees of covered employers to undergo COVID-19 vaccination, take weekly COVID-19 tests, or wear a mask.

Why Did the Fifth Circuit Stay OSHA’s ETS?

Notably, the Fifth Circuit commented in a footnote that debates over the Biden Administration’s vaccine mandate have “roiled the country throughout much of the Fall,” and that the ETS (referred to as “the Mandate” by the three-judge panel) “affects every person in America one way or another.”  Drawing from a variety of sources—including White House Chief of Staff Ronald Klain’s retweet of an MSNBC anchor’s tweet characterizing the ETS as a “workaround” for a federal vaccine mandate, the Court refused to accept the government’s arguments that a sufficient emergency exists justifying a second COVID-focused ETS in less than 6 months.  Indeed, the Court found that prior statements by the Administration “belie the notion that COVID-19 poses the kind of emergency that allows OSHA to take the extreme measure of an ETS.”  To that end, the Court seized on the fact that more than 78% of Americans aged 12 and older are either fully or partially vaccinated and thus face “little risk at all” according to the Administration.

While the November 12 opinion was issued after the Fifth Circuit conducted an “expedited” review, the Court leaves little doubt as to how it will likely rule Continue reading

[BREAKING] 5th Cir. Temporarily Stays OSHA’s COVID-19 Vaccination, Testing, and Face Coverings Emergency Rule

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

On Saturday, November 6th, a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) staying the effect of OSHA’s vaccination, testing, and face coverings emergency temporary standard (ETS) that it had promulgated just the day before.  The entirety of the court’s explanation for the stay Order was this:

“Because the petitions give cause to believe there are grave statutory
and constitutional issues with the Mandate, the Mandate is hereby STAYED
pending further action by this court.”

The suit challenging OSHA’s new vaccination, testing, and face coverings ETS was initiated on behalf of a group of private businesses and religious organizations, as well as several states, including Texas, Louisiana, South Carolina, Utah and Mississippi. The petitioners argued that OSHA overstepped its legal authority in issuing an emergency standard to address COVID-19 in US workplaces at this point in the pandemic. The petitioners assert that an emergency stay is necessary because these employers will face workforce shortages if unvaccinated employees quit their jobs in lieu of receiving a COVID-19 vaccination, and the ETS forces them to expend resources to develop and implement written compliance and reporting procedures beyond what the law authorizes under the circumstances.

Specifically, their objections to the OSHA ETS include: 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

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

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