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