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.
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);
Designating a COVID-19 safety coordinator to communicate requirements to employees and non-employees at your “Covered Contractor Workplaces”; and
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. (SeeEO 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.
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.
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 →
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 →
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 →
Broadly, OSHA’s updated COVID-19 guidance tracks CDC’s updated guidance closely. For example, OSHA now recommends that:
Fully vaccinated workers in areas of substantial or high community transmission wear masks in order to protect unvaccinated workers; and
Fully vaccinated workers everywhere in the country who experience a close contact exposure with a COVID-19 case wear a mask for 14 days or until they receive a negative COVID test taken at least 3 days after the contact.
Additionally, the guidance clarifies OSHA’s recommendations for protecting unvaccinated workers and other at-risk workers in “workplaces with heightened risk due to workplace environmental factors,” including those in manufacturing, meat and poultry processing, seafood processing and agricultural processing.
fully vaccinated people can choose to wear a mask regardless of the level of transmission, particularly if they are immunocompromised or at increased risk for severe disease from COVID-19, or if they have someone in their household who is immunocompromised, at increased risk of severe disease or not fully vaccinated; and
fully vaccinated people who have a known exposure to a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case be tested 3-5 days after exposure, and wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days or until they receive a negative test result.
Although the guidance speaks in absolutes, we think that the general limitations that have applied to all prior mask mandates throughout the pandemic continue to inform this updated guidance; i.e., “public indoor settings” is intended to cover locations where there is the potential for exposure to another individual, and not where an employee is “alone in a room” or “alone in a vehicle.”
Is Your County Experiencing Substantial or High Levels of Transmission?
To determine whether your workplace is in a county experiencing substantial or high transmission of COVID-19, the CDC uses two different indicators, the higher of which prevails:
total new cases per 100,000 persons over the past seven days; and
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.
Yesterday, June 3, 2021, the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (Board) convened and, in a bizarre turn of events, voted against, and then, moments later, voted to approve, Cal/OSHA’s revised COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS). The revised ETS is expected to take effect on June 15, 2021.
The Board initially voted 4-3 against adoption of the revised ETS, and next voted to set up a Subcommittee of three Board members to meet with the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Division) to make the rule “better.” The Board members rejecting the proposal had expressed concern over the clarity of the vaccination documentation requirement, the continued use of face masks in the workplace, and the mandate for employers to provide N95 respirators for unvaccinated workers. Yet, the stated goals for this Subcommittee are ambiguous, to say the least.
At that point, the Board members expressed concern about the existing ETS remaining in effect indefinitely in the meantime, and took a break apparently to confer over whether to reconsider their earlier vote. After returning to the meeting, the Board voted unanimously, without explanation, to Continue reading →
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 K3Continue reading →
On May 19, Oregon OSHA issued a Statement Regarding Vaccination Status in Relation to Oregon’s Facial Covering and Social Distancing Requirements in which it advises that employers may discontinue enforcing face covering and physical distancing requirements as to employees and/or visitors (which apparently includes customers) only if the employer verifies the vaccination status of any such individuals attempting to enter without a face covering. Notably, Oregon OSHA further advises that the employer must enforce the physical distancing and facial covering requirements without regard to the exemption with respect to anyone who refuses to provide verification of their vaccination status. Over the past year, many retailers struggled to craft a workable policy that complied with the intent of Oregon OSHA’s expectation that they deny entry/refuse service to customers who refuse to wear a mask. As we discussed in prior blog posts, placing front line retail workers in such a position was not only infeasible, but it put them at greater risk of harm by customers who reacted in a violent manner when asked to wear a face covering. It remains to be seen, however, whether Oregon OSHA will adopt a rational approach respect to vaccination status verification requirements for retailers and other employers with public-facing operations.
Notably, Oregon OSHA’s Statement references the Oregon Health Authority’s May 18 Interim Guidance for Vaccinated Individuals, which includes retailers in the definition of a covered business; it does not, however define visitor. We nonetheless read the OHA’s Interim Guidance and the OR OSHA Statement together to treat customers/shoppers as visitors. According to the OR Health Authority, a business must continue to enforce the physical distancing and face covering requirements unless it: Continue reading →
Our national OSHA Practice at Conn Maciel Carey has been advocating hard to OSHA about COVID-19 related recordkeeping issues. One of those issues has been the recordability of adverse reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine. Specifically, if we want to encourage more workers to get vaccinated, and to encourage more employers to mandate, incentivize, or encourage employees to get vaccinated, OSHA should not require employers to record adverse reactions to the vaccines as days away illnesses on their 300 Logs.
Many people have experienced something of a flu-like reaction to the COVID-19 vaccines, and often have required at least a day away from work the day after the second dose. OSHA had previously indicated that many of these reactions would be recordable on the OSHA 300 Log, especially if the employer required or strongly encouraged the vaccine, or if the circumstances of the job made vaccination something of a de facto requirement.
In mid-April, OSHA clarified its position in a couple of FAQs about the recordability of adverse reactions to the vaccine in a couple of FAQs on its COVID-19 page. At that time, OSHA said: Continue reading →
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.
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 →
The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) issued new guidance yesterday – COVID-19 Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People – that affects some aspects of Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 ETS. For purposes of this discussion, people are considered fully vaccinated for COVID-19 either two weeks or more after they receive the second dose in a two-dose series (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna), or two weeks of more after they received a single-dose vaccine (Johnson and Johnson/Janssen).
Relevant to application of Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 ETS requirements to fully vaccinated workers, the new CDPH guidance provides that in a workplace setting, fully vaccinated workers are no longer required to quarantine following a known exposure at work, so long as the exposed vaccinated worker remains asymptomatic. But that is as far as the guidance goes in providing relief under Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 ETS for vaccinated workers.
Specifically, employers must still follow all other requirements of the ETS with respect to fully vaccinated workers. Regardless of vaccination status, an exposed fully vaccinated worker or a fully vaccinated worker who is part of a group of workers covered by an outbreak determination must still Continue reading →
Are you curious how the COVID-19 vaccine distribution effort works or is intended to work? Is your organization considering standing up an onsite vaccination program or looking into options to facilitate the vaccination of your employees? As this country embarks on a massive undertaking that involves a series of remarkable public/private partnerships, many employers are anxious to better understand how the supply chain works, who is making prioritization decisions and why, and what they can do now to help increase the number of arms that receive shots. If you have questions about these issues or other vaccine rollout-related matters, we hope you will join us for an informative panel discussion moderated by Aaron Gelb, Partner in Charge of Conn Maciel Carey’s Chicago Office with special guests:
Lori Tremmel Freeman, CEO of the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO)
Michelle Kite, Retail Health and Safety Manager at Walgreens
Sonali Kshatriya, Pharmacist and Manager on the Walgreens Clinical Team
Fern Fleischer-Daves, OSHA Attorney at Conn Maciel Carey