In case anyone has forgotten, there are still a few COVID-19 vaccine mandates out there that the Supreme Court has not struck down. There are the federal employee and military vaccine mandates, and for private employers, the federal contractor vaccine-mandate. The federal contractor mandate arose from Pres. Biden’s Executive Order 14042, which directed executive agencies to include a clause in procurement agreements requiring employees who work on or in connection with a covered federal contract, or who even share a workplace with another employee who does, to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
You may have forgotten about that federal contractor vaccine mandate because that requirement has been the subject of nationwide temporary injunction for the last nine months, following a decision in December 2021 by a federal district court judge in Georgie in a legal challenge captioned Georgia v. Biden, one of several legal challenges to the Biden Administration’s authority to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine through the 1949 Federal Property and Administrative Services Act (aka the Procurement Act). The district court judge in Georgia v. Biden entered a nationwide preliminary injunction after concluding that the plaintiff States and one trade association were likely to prevail on their assertion that the mandate was outside the scope of the Procurement Act. The judge ordered the federal government not to enforce the mandate in any covered agreement, and several other federal courts have also imposed other, though narrower, restrictions on EO 14042. Since then, the Administration has shelved the vaccine requirement for federal contractors.
A lot of water has also passed under the bridge since that time, and the COVID-19 landscape has changed pretty significantly. Most notably, the CDC recently updated its COVID-19 guidance in several ways, but most relevant to the federal contractor vaccine mandate, the CDC now no longer distinguishes between vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals for how COVID-19 controls should apply. For example, quarantine and isolation requirements are perfectly aligned for fully vaccinated, partially vaccinated, and completely unvaccinated individuals. The rationale for the new relaxed guidance from Pres. Biden’s CDC is that there are now “so many tools available to use for reducing COVID-19 severity, [so] there is significantly less risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death compared to earlier in the pandemic.” That rationale would seemingly undermine the original purpose of the federal contractor vaccine mandate – ensuring “economy and efficiency” of the federal procurement system by ensuring the health of the contracting workforce.
Nevertheless, the Administration has continued to defend the federal contractor vaccine mandate as the legal challenges to EO 14042 have moved through the court system. The latest development in that litigation came in yet another Friday night COVID-19 surprise, Continue reading →
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
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?
It has been a real adventure trying to track all the different legal challenges in so many different courts to President Biden’s various different executive actions related to vaccination. While the fate of the OSHA Vaccinate-or-Test ETS (dead) and the CMC Healthcare Vaccine-Mandate (very much alive) are essentially settled by the Supreme Court, the Federal Contractor Vaccine-Mandate Executive Order (EO 14042) is still meandering its way through the federal courts. And there was a lot of activity in the courts this past Friday, January 21st, regarding the federal contractor EO and the federal employee vaccination mandate.
In the first case, Feds for Medical Freedom v. Biden, employees of federal contractors and employees of the federal government together are challenging both Executive Orders 14042 (vaccine-mandate for federal contractors) and 14043 (vaccine-mandate for federal employees). Judge Jeffrey V. Brown (a Trump-appointee to the S.D. of Texas) issued an opinion and order enjoining only enforcement of the federal employee mandate. Judge Brown’s reasoning in that case boiled down to a conclusion that injunctive relief is appropriate because: (1) the “Hobson’s Choice” of a workplace vaccine-mandate creates irreparable harm; and (2) the challenging federal employees have a likelihood of success on the merits because the President acted ultra vires and the implementation of EO 14043 violates the Administrative Procedures Act. Notably, Judge Brown declined to take action with regard to the federal contractor EO, noting that Judge R. Stan Baker (a Trump appointee to the S.D. of Georgia) in Georgia v. Biden had previously enjoined the federal government from enforcing the vaccination mandate on a nationwide basis.
While Judge Brown’s decision in Feds for Medical Freedom v. Biden did not change the status of the federal contractor EO, on the same day, Judge Baker issued a new order with regard to the injunction he had put in place in Georgia v. Biden in December. First, Judge Baker declined to address whether private federal contractors are enjoined from mutually agreeing with a federal agency to include COVID-19 safety clauses in their contracts; i.e., to voluntarily comply with the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force (“Task Force”) guidelines, as he viewed that as improperly seeking an advisory opinion while the case is pending on appeal. But on the broader question as to the scope of his national injunction, on Friday he wrote: Continue reading →
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.”
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.
In September, President Biden revealed a new COVID-19 Action Plan with one of several key goals to “Vaccinate the Unvaccinated.” The most notable aspect of that plan was a directive to federal OSHA to develop another COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard requiring many employers to implement a “soft” vaccine mandate; i.e., to require employees to either be fully vaccinated or submit to a weekly testing. The President also directed OSHA to include in this new ETS a requirement that employers provide paid time off for employees to get vaccinated and recover from any side effects of the vaccine.
OSHA moved quickly in response to the President’s directive, and published the final ETS in the Federal Register on November 5, 2021. During this webinar, the attorneys from CMC’s OSHA and Employment Law practices provided a detailed analysis of the rule and addressed these important questions raised by the latest development on the COVID-19 front: Continue reading →
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 →
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.
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:
We hate that we have to do this again, but alas, as we reported late last week, on 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.
While we anticipated OSHA would reconsider the need for a broader COVID-19 ETS applicable beyond just the healthcare sector in light of the impact of the Delta variant, President Biden’s decision to use a new ETS focused on vaccinations and testing as a central element of his newly unveiled Path Out of the Pandemic – COVID-19 Action Plan raises a host of challenges for employers across the country. 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 fee-based company-anonymous coalition of employers and trade groups to advocate for the most reasonable fed OSHA COVID-19 emergency rule focused on vaccination and testing possible.Continue reading →
On Sept. 9th, Pres. Biden revealed a new COVID-19 Action Plan with one of several key goals to “Vaccinate the Unvaccinated.” The most notable aspect of that plan is a directive to federal OSHA to develop a 2nd COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard requiring all but small employers in all industries to implement “soft” vaccine mandates; i.e., require employees to either be fully vaccinated or get weekly testing. The President also directed OSHA to include in this new ETS a requirement that employers provide paid time for employees to get vaccinated and recover from ill effects of the vaccine. Separately, the President issued Executive Orders setting “hard” vaccine mandates for federal contractors and healthcare workers.
The President’s announcement was lean on details, and prompted as many questions as it answered. Join the attorneys from CMC’s OSHA and Employment Law practices to talk through our take on the burning questions raised by this latest development on the COVID-19 front: 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.
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