OSHA Withdraws Its Vaccinate-or-Test ETS, But Continues Rulemaking for Two Permanent COVID-19 Rules

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

Earlier today, January 26, 2022, OSHA published in the Federal Register a Notice of Withdrawal of its COVID-19 Vaccination, Testing, and Face Covering ETS.  After the Supreme Court’s January 13th decision in Nat’l Fed’n of Indep. Bus. v. Dep’t of Labor reinstituting the Stay of the ETS, the writing was on the wall for OSHA’s vaccinate-or-test ETS, but today’s announcement made it official.  The Notice of Withdrawal does not call for comment, as it is “impracticable, unnecessary, and contrary to the public interest.”  OSHA further explained that it would unnecessarily delay the resolution of ambiguity for employers and workers.  So that’s that for the Vaccinate-or-Test ETS, effective immediately.

Nevertheless, this dead horse may be in store for some more beating.  As you know, the day the ETS was published in the Federal Register back in November, pursuant to Sec. 6(c)(3) of the OSH Act, it became the “proposed rule” in a rulemaking that automatically kicked off to establish a permanent replacement vaccinate-or-test standard.  In OSHA’s other big announcement today, the agency indicated that it has not withdrawn that rulemaking.  Rather, OSHA declared its intent to move forward with a permanent rulemaking.

This was yet another fascinating development in this roller coaster.  While we anticipated that OSHA would withdraw the vaccinate-or-test ETS to avoid having a full merits adjudication by the Supreme Court that would establish more concrete precedent narrowing OSHA’s rulemaking authority, we continue to be surprised to see that OSHA is continuing on with the permanent rulemaking.

Recall that the Supreme Court did not say that OSHA’s ETS exceeded the agency’s emergency rulemaking authority.  Rather, the Court found that Continue reading

OSHA COVID-19 Regulation and Enforcement Post-Supreme Court [Webinar Recording]

On Thursday, January 20, 2022 we hosted a special bonus event in Conn Maciel Carey’s 2022 OSHA Webinar Series in the form of a panel webinar program regarding OSHA COVID-19 Regulation and Enforcement After the Supreme Court Stayed the Vaccinate-or-Test ETS.

Presented by
Conn Maciel Carey LLP with Special Guests
Neal Katyal and Jordan Barab

In this exclusive, bonus program we facilitated a panel discussion regarding the Supreme Court’s recent decision to stay OSHA’s Vaccinate-or-Test emergency temporary standard, what that decision means for employers in fed OSHA and State OSH Plan states, and how OSHA will address the COVID-19 hazard in the workplace moving forward.

We would like to extend our gratitude to our remarkable cast of panelists for participating in this event:

  • Neal Katyal – former Acting Solicitor General of the United States and leading Constitutional Law expert; Partner at Hogan Lovells and Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center
  • Jordan Barab – President Obama’s Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA and Acting Head of OSHA; former Sr. Policy Advisor to the US House Education and Labor Committee
  • Moderated by Eric J. Conn, Chair, Conn Maciel Carey LLP’s national OSHA Practice Group

The Supreme Court has spoken, and OSHA’s Vaccination, Testing and Face Coverings Emergency Temporary Standard is once again subject to a nationwide judicial stay.  The conservative majority on the Court reasoned that the 50-year old OSH Act does not include an explicit-enough delegation of authority from the US Congress for OSHA to issue a regulation that addresses an issue that is not unique to the workplace and which is of such great economic and social significance. Shortly after the Supreme Court issued its decision, Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh announced that “OSHA will do everything in its existing authority to hold businesses accountable for protecting workers, including under the COVID-19 National Emphasis Program and General Duty Clause.”

So, the big question facing employers now is what are the potential regulatory pitfalls from unwinding or stopping the implementation of any of their COVID-19 prevention and/or vaccination policies developed either in response to OSHA’s Vaccinate-or-Test ETS or more general efforts to keep up with CDC recommendations and/or protect against OSHA General Duty Clause citations?  Or said another way, without the COVID-19 emergency standards, what does OSHA expect from employers on the COVID-19 front to avoid enforcement?

Our panel of experts reviewed: Continue reading

Update on OSHA’s COVID Emergency Rule for Healthcare – And How It Affects the Vaccinate-or-Test ETS

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Last week, on December 27th, OSHA announced the withdrawal of most of its COVID-19 ETS for Healthcare, which was the first of the two COVID-19 emergency temporary standards OSHA issued in the first year of the Biden Administration.

This Healthcare ETS was issued back in June 2021 in response to President Biden’s Day 1 OSHA Executive Order.  Recall that this was the ETS that had been crafted by OSHA to apply to all employers in all industries, but as it was being finalized in late Spring, when it looked like we might just be approaching the end of the pandemic, the Administration decided to narrow the scope to just the healthcare industry.  That ETS was what we call a “programmatic” standard; requiring the development of a comprehensive COVID-19 prevention program, complete with an array of required engineering and administrative controls.  When the Healthcare ETS was issued, OSHA noted on its webpage for the ETS that it expected the ETS to be in effect for six months from the date of publication — until December 21, 2021.

December 21st came and went without any word from OSHA.  But on Monday of last week, , six days after the Healthcare ETS’s six-month anniversary, OSHA issued a statement that:

“[while OSHA] intends to continue to work expeditiously to issue a final standard that will protect healthcare workers from COVID-19 hazards, and will do so as it also considers its broader infectious disease rulemaking[,]” it is “withdrawing the non-recordkeeping portions of the healthcare ETS. The COVID-19 log and reporting provisions … remain in effect.”

Here is the full statement posted on OSHA’s Healthcare ETS webpage:

Why Did OSHA Withdraw Portions of the Healthcare ETS? Continue reading

OSHA Criminal Cases on the Rise

By: Eric J. Conn and Kate M. McMahon

In the forty plus years since Congress enacted the OSH Act, there have been more than 400,000 workplace fatalities, yet fewer than eighty total OSH Act criminal cases have been prosecuted – fewer than two per year – and only approximately a dozen have resulted in criminal convictions. Historically, the prosecutions typically have targeted cases in which the employers were alleged to have falsified documents and lied to OSHA in conjunction with underlying regulatory violations relating to an employee fatality. In other words, the “cover-up,” so to speak, was worse than the crime. Chronic violators and employers who demonstrated a systematic rejection of worker safety laws also were more likely to face charges.

One primary reason that historically so few criminal cases have been pursued under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (“OSH Act”)OSH Criminal 3 is that it is challenging to prove a criminal violation under the Act. Combine that with the fact that, even with a conviction, the consequences are less significant than the consequences for many other white collar crimes and you end of with a situation where the criminal provision of the OSH Act is rarely employed.

Here is how it works. Section 17(e) states:

“Any employer who willfully violates any standard, rule, or order promulgated pursuant to Section 6 of this Act, or of any regulations proscribed pursuant to this Act, and that violation caused death to any employee, shall, upon conviction, be punished by a fine of not more than $10,000 or by imprisonment for not more than six months, or by both.”

Pursuant to the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, 18 USC § 3551 et seq., which standardized penalties and sentences for federal offenses, the criminal penalty for willful violations of the OSH Act causing loss of human life was amended to be punishable by fines up to $250,000 for individuals (18 U.S.C. Sec. 3574(b)(4)), and $500,000 for organizations (id. at Sec. 574(c)(4)).

Accordingly, if an employer’s willful violation of an OSHA standard causes the death of an employee, Continue reading