On Tuesday, May 3, 2022, OSHA held a virtual stakeholder meeting to discuss and receive public input about OSHA’s various initiatives designed to protect workers from heat-related hazards. Below is a summary of the stakeholder meeting, as well as the comments we presented on behalf of our Employers Heat Illness Prevention Coalition. If you would like to view the entire meeting, or view the agenda or some of the heat illness-related materials OSHA made available, they are available on OSHA’s Heat Forum Public Stakeholder Meeting website.
The meeting ran for approx. 6 hours (from noon to 6 PM). More than 3,000 stakeholders signed up for the meeting, and more than 500 people requested to speak, including OSHA representatives, an OSHA leadership panel, and four batches of public comment. Public commenters were each allotted a strictly enforced 3-minute window to speak.
Opening Remarks from Heads of DOL/OSHA
The Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, Doug Parker, kicked off the meeting with opening remarks. Mr. Parker began by explaining that heat-related hazards do not Continue reading →
Employee requests for medical and/or religious accommodations in the workplace are not new. However, never before have these accommodation requests been such a hot-button topic, nor have these accommodation requests been used so frequently (and in particular, religious accommodation requests). The imposition of COVID-19 vaccine mandates has changed that, particularly with regard to religious accommodation requests, which has become the ultimate “gray area,” as both employers and employees alike have learned that sincerely held religious belief can include an employee’s religious-based objection to vaccinations. As a result, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has issued guidance regarding the obligations of employers under Title VII when an employee presents with a religious objection to a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy, which actually builds upon prior EEOC guidance regarding COVID-19 vaccinations in the employment context. Thus, there are multiple issues that employers need to keep in mind and juggle when addressing these vaccination accommodation requests.
Participants in this webinar learned how to best deal with such requests by their employees, including: Continue reading →
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 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.
Well over a year after the pandemic began, federal OSHA has declined to adopt a set of COVID-19 regulations for general industry. Just 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 →
The ball has dropped, the confetti has been swept out of Times Square, and 2020 is in the books. It’s time to look back and take stock of what we learned from and about OSHA over the past year. More importantly, it is time to look ahead and assess what to expect from OSHA during the new year, and the start of a new Presidential term (either the 2nd Term of President Trump or new Administration under former Vice President Joe Biden). In this webinar, the Chair of Conn Maciel Carey’s national OSHA Practice Group will review OSHA enforcement, rulemaking, and leadership developments from 2020, and will discuss the top OSHA issues employers should monitor and prepare for in the New Year.
On January 7, 2021, President-elect Joe Biden announced his much-awaited choice for nominee to serve as Secretary of Labor, selecting Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. Mayor Walsh made his mark as a labor leader, ultimately heading the Building and Construction Trades Council from 2011 to 2013. Mr. Walsh was also a full-time legislator, serving in the Massachusetts state legislature for some 17 years before being elected mayor in 2014.
If confirmed, it is expected that Mayor Walsh’s close personal friendship with President-elect Biden will elevate the importance of the Labor Department in President Biden’s cabinet, allowing a Secretary Walsh significant influence in the Administration.
Mayor Walsh’s strong ties to organized labor and his selection follows through on President-elect Biden’s campaign promise to give unions a stronger voice in labor policy in his Administration. Mayor Walsh has a reputation as a “pragmatic deal maker,” and he is respected in Massachusetts by both business and labor for his reasonable approach to solving labor and employment issues facing the state.
Of the many issues likely to be tackled by the Labor Department over the next few years, one of the first and most impactful will be the likely issuance of a federal COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard by OSHA. President-elect Biden has pledged to have OSHA quickly address this issue. If a federal ETS is promulgated, it would replace the current Administration’s approach, which has relied heavily on CDC and agency guidance, as well as existing OSHA standards, like the respiratory protection standard and recordkeeping rules, to issue citations. With respect to COVID-19, under Mayor Walsh’s leadership, the City of Boston implemented a Continue reading →
Pres. Obama’s Secretary of Labor, Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, and the rest of his political Leadership Team at the Department of Labor turned over the keys to the Trump Administration. The Trump Administration has now installed, or at least announced, its own OSHA and OSHRC Leadership Team, and the backgrounds and regulatory philosophies between the outgoing and new decision makers and policymakers could not be more different.
During this webinar, participants learned about the new appointees who have taken (or should soon take) the reins at OSHA, and how this new Leadership Team will affect OSHA enforcement and rulemaking. We also reviewed other personnel changes at OSHA and OSHRC that will impact the regulatory landscape for employers.
On Thursday, April 27, 2017, Alexander Acosta was confirmed by the United States Senate to serve as the first Secretary of Labor in the Trump Administration. As we reported in an earlier article when Acosta was first nominated by Pres. Trump, in this role, Sec. Acosta will oversee the federal department that develops and interprets labor regulations and investigates alleged violations of minimum wage, overtime, and workplace safety laws and regulations.
The Senate approved Acosta by a vote of 60-38, meaning there was some cross-party support, despite the party-line vote on Acosta’s nomination by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. This marks the fourth time Acosta has been confirmed by the Senate, including his prior positions in the Bush Administration.
Specifically, during the Bush Administration, Acosta served as a member of the National Labor Relations Board for approximately eight months. In 2003, President Bush appointed him to Head the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice’s , a position which he held for about two years, before being appointed to serve as the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. Most recently, Acosta was the Dean of Florida International University’s School of Law.
At this point, it is still uncertain what jurisprudence Acosta will bring to the role of Secretary of Labor. The Trump Administration and its initial Secretary of Labor nominee, Andrew Puzder, who withdrew from consideration back in February, have taken aggressive stands on deregulation. However, Acosta’s positions on regulation and enforcement have not been as clearly expressed, and his prior experience as a prosecutor may suggest a more measured approach in managing the enforcement responsibilities of the various agencies under his direction. We will have a better idea of Acosta’s approach soon, however, because there are a number of time sensitive issues that will need his prompt attention upon being sworn in.
In particular, we expect that one immediate priority for Acosta will be Continue reading →
The Trump Administration submitted a blueprint budget for 2018 to Congress proposing $2.5 Billion in cuts to the U.S. Department of Labor’s (“DOL”) operating budget. The President’s proposed budget expressly calls for reduced funding for grant programs, job training programs for seniors and disadvantaged youth, and support for international labor efforts. It also proposes to entirely defund and eliminate the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (“CSB”) – an independent, federal, non-enforcement agency that investigates chemical accidents at fixed facilities. The budget plan also purports to shift more funding responsibility to the states with labor related programs. Finally, although less explicit, the budget blueprint appears to deliver on promises from Trump’s campaign trail that rulemaking and regulatory enforcement efforts under the myriad laws and regulations enforced by the sub-agencies, such as the Wage and Hour Division and OSHA would be slashed.
These proposed budget cuts at DOL and other agencies are all part of a plan to offset the White House’s intent to increase defense and security spending by $54 billion. Overall, Trump requested $1.065 Trillion in total discretionary spending, with $603 billion going to Defense.
The proposal would shrink DOL’s budget to $9.6 Billion – down 21% from the $12.2 Billion budget for 2017. Trump’s planned reductions announced on March 16, 2017 – while not really surprising in the context of his view toward federal spending on non-defense agencies – would have a seismic impact on DOL’s ability to carry out both policy initiatives under former President Obama as well as many of the Department’s longstanding programs.
The business community welcomes Trump’s effort to rein in what has been viewed as an intrusive, enforcement-heavy Labor Department, but we caution not to count chickens yet. These proposed cuts will undergo heavy scrutiny by Congress before any budget is finalized. The President’s spending plan is only the first step in months of negotiations between the White House and both houses (and parties) in Congress. Pres. Trump will put forward a more detailed spending proposal in May, and various legislative committees will scrutinize his requests, calling on Cabinet Secretaries, Agency Heads, and others in the Administration to testify about or otherwise explain their spending needs and requests.
Key Takeaways from Trump’s Budget Blueprint
While the administration provided estimates for some of the proposed cuts, it did not specify where the majority of the budget cuts would come from. What we do know is that the proposed budget would Continue reading →
Employers must beware as the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) cracks down on what it perceives as rampant misclassifying employees as contractors and shirking other responsibilities, such as safety training, because a worker is supplied by another employer. With more and more unique employment relationships and multi-employer worksites, it is crucial to understand the complexities of how the DOL and its various enforcement agencies define the employment relationship and/or assign liability in these contexts.
It has long been a priority of the Obama Administration to treat more workers as actual employees of host employers in order to provide them with a litany of labor protections and benefits, even when these workers are not hired directly, may not stay long, and may not even consider themselves to be employees. This enforcement philosophy affects businesses in numerous areas – such as wage and hour law and OSHA compliance – even when employers thought staffing through an agency or on an independent contract basis relieved them of many of these DOL burdens and liabilities. Not only does this increase the cost of many temporary, contract and multi-employer arrangements, it also puts employers at great risk of costly DOL enforcement actions if they do not understand when they have the responsibility (as opposed to another employer) to satisfy certain terms of labor law compliance.
First and foremost to keep in mind, although an employer may classify a worker as an independent contractor or as a non-employee temporary worker, and their maybe contract documents that express that classification, that does not mean DOL takes the same view. Indeed, as DOL sees it, most workers should be treated as employees. Also, employers may have certain employment law and OSHA-related obligations and potential liability even for non-employees depending on the employers’ roles at multi-employer worksites or in joint-employer situations.
New ‘Joint Employer’ Standard
Outsourcing to a temporary or contract worker can be a great way for a company to take care of some tasks and may make more sense for the business, rather than hiring full-time workers to fill those gaps. However, if the DOL finds under one of various legal tests that the business is a joint-employer of that worker with another company, then numerous legal obligations kick in vis-a-vis these shared employees (such as collective bargaining and mandatory dispute resolution) as well as significant exposure for your organization under various labor laws.
In the past few years, both state and federal agencies have been expanding the joint-employer definition. Continue reading →
Employers’ perceptions about their legal responsibilities for certain workers is not always reality. Although an employer may classify a worker as a temporary worker or independent contractor, that does not mean the Department of Labor takes the same view. Recently, DOL has been vocal about its belief that most workers should be treated as employees, insinuating that in a majority of cases, it would hold employers accountable for the specific obligations of an employer-employee relationship. Additionally, employers may have certain employment law and OSHA related obligations and potential liability depending on their role at multi-employer worksites or in joint employer situations.
Overall, DOL has been cracking down on employee misclassification and division of responsibility among multiple employers; thus, it is essential for employers to carefully evaluate the employment relationship and their own individual function at in the multi-employer context.
The Legal Backgrounder reviewed the history of OSH Act criminal cases and a new Department of Justice and Department of Labor joint initiative designed to increase the frequency of both criminal prosecutions for workplace safety violations generally, and to pursue more criminal charges against individual managers rather than just corporate defendants. The article explains:
“A key change in DOJ’s strategy for ‘upping the ante’ in workplace-safety criminal enforcement is the decision to transfer responsibility for prosecuting worker-safety violations from the Justice Department Criminal Division’s Fraud Section to the Environmental Crimes Section (ECS) of the Environment and Natural Resources Division.”
The article concluded that:
“the new Department of Justice worker-endangerment initiative will result in a renewed and more concerted effort to pursue criminal charges under environmental statutes where workers’ health and safety is allegedly being threatened. Based on this rekindled commitment by DOL and DOJ, employers should expect government officials investigating workplace-safety violations to probe for possible criminal violations—not only under the OSH Act where there has been a fatality, but under the myriad of environmental statutes and Title 18’s federal criminal code.”