OSHA Conducts Comprehensive Heat Illness Prevention Stakeholder Meeting

By Beeta B. Lashkari and Eric J. Conn

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

Coalition to Work on OSHA’s Rulemaking to Expand the E-Recordkeeping Rule

On March 30th, OSHA published a new proposed rule to amend and dramatically expand the requirements of its Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses Rule (i.e., the E-Recordkeeping Rule).  Read our full article here for more information about the history of E-Recordkeeping, the new proposed amendments to the E-Recordkeeping Rule, and the implications of the proposed changes.

As we have had to do too often the last couple of years, Conn Maciel Carey’s OSHA Team is organizing a flat fee-based rulemaking coalition of employers and trade groups to collaborate to work on submitting public comments on this new proposal and otherwise participate in the rulemaking process to advocate for the most manageable possible E-Recordkeeping Rule.

We held a kickoff call for the coalition earlier this week.  If you were unable to attend, we are pleased to share links to the recording and a copy of the slides that we used. We expect to have a follow up virtual meeting in May to solicit detailed input from coalition participants and review our advocacy strategy.

There is still time to join our coalition if your organization would like to partner with us on this rulemaking.  OSHA requested public comments to be submitted by May 31, 2022.

We expect to address, among other important concerns, that: Continue reading

OSHA Launches an Enforcement National Emphasis Program For Outdoor and Indoor Heat Illness Prevention

By Beeta Lashkari and Eric Conn

Last week, on April 12, 2022, OSHA announced that it has launched an enforcement National Emphasis Program (“NEP”) for Outdoor and Indoor Heat-Related Hazards.  The Heat Illness NEP applies to both indoor and outdoor workplaces, including general industry, construction, maritime, and agriculture.  The NEP is already in effect – as of April 8th – even before OSHA made its April 12th announcement, and will remain in effect for three years unless canceled or extended by a superseding directive.

Secretary of Labor Walsh, joined by Vice President Harris, announced this new enforcement program at a speech at the Sheet Metal Workers Local 19 Training Center in Philadelphia with these remarks:

“Tragically, the three-year average of workplace deaths caused by heat has doubled since the early 1990s. These extreme heat hazards aren’t limited to outdoor occupations, the seasons or geography. From farm workers in California to construction workers in Texas and warehouse workers in Pennsylvania, heat illness – exacerbated by our climate’s rising temperatures – presents a growing hazard for millions of workers….  This enforcement program is another step towards our goal of a federal heat standard. Through this work, we’re also empowering workers with knowledge of their rights, especially the right to speak up about their safety without fear of retaliation.”

Below is an analysis of the mechanics of OSHA’s Heat Illness NEP: Continue reading

OSHA’s Rulemaking to Expand the Electronic Recordkeeping Rule

By Eric J. Conn

Who else misses the time when OSHA would issue a new regulation only once every decade or so?!?!  Alas, OSHA has been quite busy the last few months on the rulemaking front, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.  You’ve heard a lot from us about the various COVID-19 rulemaking efforts – two emergency standards and a new effort to make permanent the COVID-19 standard for healthcare.  Now, OSHA has turned its attention to a more traditional OSHA subject – injury and illness recordkeeping.

Specifically, on March 30th, OSHA published a new proposed rule to dramatically expand the requirements of its Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses Rule; i.e., the Electronic Recordkeeping Rule.

Background on OSHA’s E-Recordkeeping Requirements

OSHA first issued regulations requiring that employers record occupational injuries and illnesses in 1971.  Pursuant to 29 CFR 1904.7, employers must keep records of work-related injuries and illnesses that involve death, loss of consciousness, days away from work, restricted work or transfer to another job, medical treatment beyond first aid, or diagnosis of a significant injury or illness by a physician or other licensed health care professional.  Additional requirements were added for Reporting of Fatality and Multiple Hospitalization Incidents, and later, in 2014, OSHA expanded the types of incidents that had to be reported to OSHA; i.e., a single in-patient hospitalization, amputations, and losses of an eye. (79 FR 56130)

In 2016 (amended in 2018), annual electronic injury recordkeeping data submissions to OSHA became mandatory both for establishments with 250 or more employees, and establishments with 20-249 employees in certain designated industries.  The current version of the E-Recordkeeping Rule has undergone some changes and revisions, and indeed, as we have chronicled in the past,  the E-Recordkeeping Rule has had a long and tortured history.  Before promulgation of the E-Recordkeeping Rule, unless OSHA opened an enforcement inspection at an employer’s workplace or the Bureau of Labor Statistics requested an employer’s participation in its annual injury data survey, employer injury and illness recordkeeping data was maintained internally by employers. In a major policy shift, in 2016, President Obama’s OSHA enacted the E-Recordkeeping Rule, requiring hundreds of thousands of workplaces to proactively submit injury and illness data to OSHA through OSHA’s Injury Tracking Application (“ITA”).  More specifically, the 2016 E-Recordkeeping Rule required: Continue reading

BREAKING – OSHA Launches New COVID-19 Enforcement Blitz for Healthcare Employers

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

On Tuesday, March 8th, OSHA announced a major COVID-19 enforcement blitz in the healthcare industry that will last for the next three months.  OSHA issued an enforcement memorandum announcing the enforcement program, which OSHA is referring to as a major “saturation effort,” to ensure that hospitals and others in the healthcare industry have appropriate COVID-19 mitigation protocols in place to protect workers today and are prepared for a future variant.  The program will be comprised of a short-term burst of highly-focused inspections directed at hospitals and skilled nursing care facilities that treat COVID-19 patients.  Below is a summary of who is covered, when the enforcement effort will end, the impact on State OSH Plans, and what to expect during the inspections.

OSHA states that the goal of this inspection program is to expand its presence to ensure continued mitigation of the spread of COVID-19 and preparation for future variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and to protect the health and safety of healthcare workers at heightened risk for contracting the virus.  New Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Doug Parker stated:

“We are using available tools while we finalize a healthcare standard….  We want to be ahead of any future events in healthcare.”

OSHA plans to conduct as many as 1,000-1,500 inspections in the next 90 days to determine whether hospital and other healthcare workers are being adequately protected from COVID-19 spread at work.  The inspections will last 2-4 days and will focus on what had been the major elements of OSHA’s COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard for Healthcare.  The OSHA resources designated for this enforcement blitz and the revised COVID-19 National Emphasis Program (NEP) will comprise at least 15% of OSHA’s enforcement activity for the year.

Who is Covered by the Enforcement Effort?

The initiative supplements OSHA’s targeted enforcement under the Revised COVID-19 NEP [DIR 2021-03 (CPL 03)], by conducting focused, partial follow-up and monitoring inspections of previously inspected or investigated hospitals and skilled nursing care facilities within four North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes listed in the enforcement memorandum, where COVID-19 citations or Hazard Alert Letters were issued, including remote-only inspections where COVID-19-related citations were issued.  Specifically, facilities in the four NAICS codes listed below may be selected for inspections under the initiative if they meet one of the following criteria: Continue reading

CDC Relaxes Face Covering and Distancing Guidelines

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

As governors and big city mayors across the country have been allowing indoor masking mandates to expire over the last few weeks, last Friday, February 25th, the CDC unveiled a brand new approach to assessing COVID-19 risks and setting mask and distancing recommendations.   The CDC’s old tool, which measured the number of COVID-19 cases to determine the relevant level of virus transmission in each community had lost its usefulness as it rendered nearly the entire country as high-risk (95% of all counties), even as the number of people getting seriously ill had dropped precipitously this year.

CDC’s new guidelines measure the impact the pandemic by looking at three factors week over week:

  1. New cases per capita (as with the prior guidelines; but also
  2. New COVID-19 related hospital admissions; and
  3. The percentage of area hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients.

Each county will have a weekly “COVID Community Level Rating” that is either Low (green), Medium (yellow) or High (orange).  Each level/color has recommended mitigation strategies, set in the table below:

Here is a link to CDC’s tool to identify the level of COVID-19 transmission in your county.

The big news is that CDC recommends Continue reading

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

[BREAKING] Supreme Court Reinstitutes a Stay of OSHA’s Vaccinate-or-Test ETS

By Eric J. Conn, Chair, OSHA Practice Group

After its normal release of opinions this morning that did not include a decision about whether to stay OSHA’s vaccinate-or-test ETS, this afternoon, at approximately 2:30 PM, the United States Supreme Court issued a per curiam decision reinstituting a stay of OSHA’s ETS.  Here is a link to the opinion of the Court.

A per curiam decisions is a court opinion issued in the name of the Court rather than specific judges, but it is certainly not an indication that the decision was unanimous or non-controversial, and in this instance, we know it was not that.  The decision was 6-3 with a concurrence by Justice Gorsuch (joined by Justices Thomas and Alito), and a joint dissent by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan.

What Was the Legal Basis for the Court’s Decision?

As we anticipated based on the tone of last week’s oral argument last week, the majority of the Court based its decision on the lack of an explicit enough delegation of authority from Congress for OSHA to issue a regulation of this significance and of an issue that is not unique to the workplace.  That rationale could have broader implications for OSHA’s regulatory reach than just this COVID-19 ETS (see heat illness):

“Although COVID–19 is a risk that occurs in many workplaces, it is not an occupational hazard in most. COVID–19 can and does spread at home, in schools, during sporting events, and everywhere else that people gather. That kind of universal risk is no different from the day-to-day dangers that all face from crime, air pollution, or any number of communicable diseases. Permitting OSHA to regulate the hazards of daily life—simply because most Americans have jobs and face those same risks while on the clock—would significantly expand OSHA’s regulatory authority without clear congressional authorization.”

Under this theory, the majority opinion indicates that Continue reading

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

Join the Partners in Conn Maciel Carey’s national OSHA Practice Group on Wednesday, January 12, 2022 at 1:00 p.m. ET, for the kickoff event in Conn Maciel Carey’s 2022 OSHA Webinar series.  This first program of the year, as is tradition, will be 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 will review OSHA enforcement, rulemaking, and personnel developments from 2021. We will also discuss the top OSHA issues employers should monitor and prepare for in the New Year.

Participants in this webinar will learn about: Continue reading

The Supreme Court Heard Oral Argument in the Legal Challenges to OSHA’s Vaccinate-or-Test Emergency Rule

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

This morning, the US Supreme Court heard oral argument in National Federation of Independent Business v. Department of Labor and Ohio v. Dept. of Labor, the consolidated cases challenging the legality of OSHA’s COVID-19 Vaccination, Testing, and Face Coverings emergency temporary standard.  Specifically, the question before the Court today was whether the OSHA ETS should be stayed pending the merits adjudication pending before the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Although scheduled for just one hour, the argument in this rare OSHA case to appear before the Supreme Court lasted a little more than two full hours.

If you were not able to listen live this morning, here is a link to an audio recording on C-SPAN.  And here is a link to the transcript of the argument.

The Department of Labor was represented at argument by the Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar.  The lawyers representing the petitioners that are seeking an emergency stay of OSHA’s vaccinate-or-test ETS were:

  • Scott Keller from Lehotsky Keller LLP, representing National Federation of Independent Business and other industry associations; and
  • Benjamin Flowers, the Solicitor General of Ohio, representing Ohio and other petitioner states.

The Ohio Solicitor General, arguing against OSHA’s vaccinate-or-test ETS, appeared remotely for the argument because he tested positive for COVID-19, somewhat ironically, pursuant to the Supreme Court’s own testing mandate for lawyers who would appear in-person to argue before the Court.

Our very high level takeaway from the argument today, and based on the nature of the questions the various Justices asked and what we know about their jurisprudence, it seemed that the conservative majority of the Court Continue reading

OSHA Updates its Testing-Related FAQs about the COVID-19 Vaccination, Testing, and Face Coverings ETS

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

We wanted to share (hopefully) one last ETS update before Christmas.  As you know, when the Fifth Circuit issued its Stay of OSHA’s Vaccination, Testing, and Face Coverings Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) in November, OSHA announced that it had “suspended activities related to the implementation and enforcement of the ETS pending future developments in the litigation.”  Essentially, OSHA said it was “pencils down” completely – no longer responding to email inquiries about interpretations of ETS terms, no longer speaking/presenting about the ETS, and importantly, no longer producing additional compliance guidance or FAQs.

With the Sixth Circuit lifting the Stay last week, however, OSHA immediately updated its website to reflect that the agency “can now once again implement this vital workplace health standard.”  OSHA went right back to work on compliance assistance, not just licking its chops to start enforcing the rule.  Indeed, in the last couple of days, OSHA has updated its FAQs on its Vaccination and Testing ETS webpage, including several about the confusing and challenging testing elements of the ETS (See Section 6 – and 6P. through 6.X. are the news testing FAQs).  Below are a few of the notable new testing-related FAQs that address questions we were fielding frequently (and thankfully answering correctly):

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

Coalition to Work on OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention Rulemaking

By Eric J. Conn, Chair of Conn Maciel Carey LLP’s National OSHA Practice

While we and employers across the nation have been focused on OSHA’s issuance of its second COVID-19 emergency temporary standard in six months, earlier this month, OSHA published in the Federal Register an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking initiating a new formal rulemaking focused onHeat Injury and Illness Prevention in Outdoor and Indoor Work Settings” (the ANPRM).  The ANPRM provided this summary of OSHA’s action:

“OSHA is initiating rulemaking to protect indoor and outdoor workers from hazardous heat and is interested in obtaining additional information about the extent and nature of hazardous heat in the workplace and the nature and effectiveness of interventions and controls used to prevent heat-related injury and illness. This ANPRM provides an overview of the problem of heat stress in the workplace and of measures that have been taken to prevent it. This ANPRM also seeks information on issues that OSHA can consider in developing the standard, including the scope of the standard and the types of controls that might be required.”

And while everyone still has most of our focus on OSHA’s Vaccination, Testing, and Face Coverings emergency temporary standard, it is critical that those industries and employers potentially impacted by an OSHA heat illness regulation focus on this important active agency rulemaking.  In fact, long after COVID-19 is a just bad memory in the rearview mirror, a heat illness standard will have lasting and potentially enormous impacts on your organization.

To that end, Conn Maciel Carey LLP is organizing a new fee-based coalition of employers and trade groups to participate in OSHA’s Indoor and Outdoor Heat Illness Rulemaking with a goal of helping to shape any heat standard that OSHA ultimately promulgates in such a way that the rule is palatable to Industry. 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

30+ Challenges to OSHA’s Vaccination, Testing, and Face Coverings ETS Consolidated in the Sixth Circuit

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

Since OSHA published its Vaccinations, Testing, and Face Coverings ETS in the Federal Register 11 days ago, petitioners have filed more than 30 separate lawsuits challenging the legality of the ETS and moving to temporarily and then permanently enjoin implementation of the ETS. The petitioners across these nearly three dozen challenges include more than half the states in the US, numerous private employers, religious groups, the Republican National Committee, and some labor unions (presumably for strategic reasons – to give more liberal courts a chance to take the lead in hearing the litigation).

By judicial procedure, when a legal challenge to an OSHA standard is filed in more than one US Court of Appeals, the US Judicial Panel on Multi-District/Circuit Litigation will respond to a motion by either party in the challenge to consolidate all of the challenges that were filed within 10 days of issuance of the standard, and by way of a true lottery, will assign the consolidated cases to a single circuit court.

Yesterday marked the tenth day since the OSHA ETS was published in the Federal Register, so this morning, (November 16th), the Department of Labor gave notice to the MDL Panel of the numerous petitions for review of a single case filed in each of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 10th Circuits, two cases in each of the 4th and 7th Circuits, three cases in the 9th, 11th, and District of Columbia Circuits, four cases in the 8th Circuit, and five cases in the 6th Circuit.  For those keeping score at home, that’s at least one legal challenge filed in every US Court of Appeals in the country except for the Federal Circuit, which does not have jurisdiction to hear challenges to OSHA standards.  Regardless of the number of challenges filed in any given circuit court, each circuit had one chance in the lottery. Continue reading

[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

OSHA’s COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard Set to Issue Imminently

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

OSHA’s COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing emergency temporary standard is expected to be released imminently, likely Wednesday or Thursday of this week.

OMB Has Concluded Its Review of the ETS:

This morning, OMB’s website updated again, but this time, it was not to add more EO 12866 stakeholder meetings to the calendar, it was to declare OMB’s review of the ETS “concluded.”  Here are two screenshots from OMB’s website.  The first shows the list of active DOL rulemakings at OMB for some form of review, and it identifies the status for the COVID-19 vaccination and testing ETS as “Concluded.”

The second one provides a little more detail, including these notes about the ETS:  “Received Date: 10/12/2021” and “Concluded Date: 11/01/2021.”

The Dept. of Labor Gives Some Clues About What to Expect in the ETS:

Additionally, a Department of Labor spokesman shared this statement this morning:

“On November 1, the Office of Management and Budget completed its regulatory review of the emergency temporary standard. The Federal Register will publish the emergency temporary standard in the coming days. [OSHA] has been working expeditiously to develop an emergency temporary standard that covers employers with 100 or more employees, firm- or company-wide, and provides options for compliance…. Covered employers must develop, implement, and enforce a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy, unless they adopt a policy requiring employees to choose either to get vaccinated or to undergo regular COVID-19 testing and wear a face covering at work. The ETS also requires employers to provide paid time to workers to get vaccinated and paid sick leave to recover from any side effects.”

The DOL statement provides some useful insight about what will be in the final rule and when we will see it.  First, OSHA did stick with the 100-employee threshold that the President identified in his announcement and new COVID-19 Action Plan from September 9th.  There was always a chance that OSHA would  scrapped that employee-count trigger as they wrote the rule and instead made it apply to everyone.  We also see in this DOL statement that, as expected, the 100-employee count will be 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

Update on Fed OSHA’s COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing Emergency Rulemaking

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

Although it has only been 10 days since OSHA delivered a proposed COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing emergency temporary standard (ETS) to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), a lot has happened.  We have seen bizarre attempts by groups of individuals to try to muck up the OMB review process.  The US Department of Labor sent letters to certain states informing them that federal OSHA is considering revoking their approved status to operate their State OSH Plans.  And, President Biden’s nominee to Head OSHA, Doug Parker, is scheduled to be confirmed early next week.  Here is a summary of what we’ve been seeing and where we are now.

When Will the Vaccination and Testing ETS be Issued? 

The stakeholder input process at OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) is well underway.  OMB’s website reflecting the schedule of Executive Order 12866 meetings is normally only updated once per day, making it hard to nail down when OMB intends to conclude its review of the proposed ETS.  As of the end of last week, we heard that OMB might conclude its review process as early as last Friday, October 12th, but every day, OMB’s website updated to include more and more stakeholder meetings.  As of this morning (Friday, October 22nd), the OMB website updated again, and it did add some new scheduled OIRA EO 12866 stakeholder meetings (now up to 68 meetings), but all of the new meetings have been scheduled to be completed today by 3 PM.

It is beginning to look to us like OMB will have “completed” its review of the ETS by the end of the day today, so at this point, we think OSHA could release the pre-publication package revealing the regulatory text and the preamble of the final ETS, as early as the close of business today.

We have also been hearing Continue reading

Fed OSHA’s COVID-19 Vaccine and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard At OMB for Approval

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

On September 9th, President Biden announced that he was 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 more importantly, to implement “soft” vaccine mandates; i.e., require employees either to be fully vaccinated or get weekly COVID-19 testing.  This new ETS focused on vaccinations and testing is a central element of the President’s newly unveiled Path Out of the Pandemic – COVID-19 Action Plan, with a central tenet to “vaccinate the unvaccinated.”

We heard from our contacts at OSHA that the agency would move much more quickly to prepare and send this ETS to the White House than it had done with the first COVID-19 ETS this Spring and Summer, and they have done just that.  On Tuesday, October 12, 2021, the Department of Labor issued a statement confirming that OSHA delivered to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget what the statement characterized as the “initial text” of the ETS.  Here is the relevant except from the DOL statement:

“The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been working expeditiously to develop an emergency temporary standard that covers employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workers are fully vaccinated or undergo weekly testing to protect employees from the spread of coronavirus in the workplace.  On Tuesday, October 12, as part of the regulatory review process, the agency submitted the initial text of the emergency temporary standard to the Office of Management and Budget.”

We thought the reference to “initial text” was peculiar.  Generally, it is a proposed final regulation that OSHA delivers to OMB in the context of an emergency rulemaking, not a working draft. But, the very next day, on Wednesday, October 13, 2021, after hitting the “refresh” button more times through the night than we would like to admit, we saw what we were expecting – a proposed final version of Federal OSHA’s COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard (“ETS”) has been submitted to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) for approval:

The entry for the ETS on OMB’s website confirms that OMB: Continue reading

OSHA Launches Regional Emphasis Program Focused on Storage Tank Cleaning Operations

By Aaron R. Gelb

On August 2, 2021, OSHA announced a new Regional Emphasis Program (“REP”) focused on transportation tank cleaning operations in the rail and truck shipping industries.  This is the second REP launched in Region 5 in less than a month; on June 14, 2021, OSHA commenced an REP to address hazardous noise levels in the Midwest. Employers who perform tank cleaning operations in Region 5, which covers Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Indiana, would be well-advised to dust off their copy of Conn Maciel Carey LLP’s OSHA Inspection Toolkit and take the necessary steps to ensure they are ready for the inspections that will begin before the end of the year.

Why Is OSHA Targeting Tank Cleaning Operations?

In the REP and accompanying press release, OSHA places a special emphasis on the dangers posed by the exposure to toxic fumes from cleaning chemicals or stored products that can build up inside a storage tank, as well as risks of fire or explosion when a worker must handle volatile materials in confined spaces.  Additionally, OSHA warns that the workers cleaning these tanks may “face many serious and potentially deadly hazards caused by toxic fumes from chemicals, decaying crops, waste and other substances that can expose workers to suffocation, fires and explosions.” OSHA also highlighted several fatal accidents that occurred in the Midwest, noting that Region 5 has investigated 23 worker deaths and 97 incidents in the transportation and tank cleaning industries since 2016.  According to OSHA, the hazards most often found during these inspections involved the failure to prevent the inhalation of harmful substances and to follow procedures for permit-required confined space requirements.

Which Employers Will Be Targeted? Continue reading