The Beltway Buzz is a weekly update summarizing labor and employment news from inside the Beltway and clarifying how what’s happening in Washington, D.C. could impact your business.
Since the beginning of May 2021, multiple states have announced their intent to opt out of enhanced federal unemployment benefits. To cease participation in enhanced federal unemployment benefit programs, a state must provide at least 30 days’ written notice to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). A state may cease participation in one or all of the six programs that allow for enhanced federally funded benefits.
On April 28, 2021, President Joe Biden unveiled a proposal to permanently expand unemployment benefits in his most recent economic package, the American Families Plan. The proposed expansion of unemployment benefits is in addition to the $2 billion already allocated to unemployment “system modernization, equitable access and fraud prevention” from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. According to the White House, “the [unemployment insurance] system is in desperate need of reform and strengthening.”
On May 7, 2021, Montana governor Greg Gianforte signed into law Montana House Bill 702, under which Montana became the first jurisdiction to recognize an individual’s vaccination status as a protected category. The law also prohibits employers from requiring employees to disclose their immunization status and bars employers from requiring employees to receive certain types of vaccines or to possess an immunity passport.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its guidance, titled Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People, on May 13, 2021, rolling back recommendations for wearing face masks, social distancing, and other protective measures for those who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
U.S. Embassy Moscow recently announced plans to reduce its consular workforce by 75 percent and significantly reduce its consular services. The announcement comes in response to the Russian government’s move to ban the U.S. Embassy “from employing foreign nationals in any capacity,” actions taken in retaliation to new U.S. sanctions imposed over Russia’s alleged interference in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, and the country’s involvement in the computer hack of top U.S. government agencies.
On May 10, 2021, a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California dismissed a lawsuit filed by the wife of a construction worker against his employer after he allegedly contracted COVID-19 at his workplace and transmitted it to her.
Like the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, Wisconsin law allows hospitality employers to pay certain tipped employees less than the minimum wage with the understanding that the tips they receive will cover the difference. More specifically, Wisconsin law allows employers to claim a tip credit of up to $4.92 per hour for employees who “customarily and regularly receive tips.” Among other things, Wisconsin law requires employers to have a “signed tip declaration” in order to claim the credit.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) found “significant weaknesses” in the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s (MSHA) overall management of the process of issuing, terminating, modifying, and abating violations, according to a recent OIG audit.
For the sixth consecutive two-week COVID-19 reporting period, none of Mexico’s 32 states are in red traffic light status, the most stringent of the nation’s four-tiered monitoring system designed to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It has been nearly one full year since the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) expanded its campus sexual violence policy, placing additional obligations on member institutions. While many stakeholders were hoping for additional guidance from the NCAA to address some of the questions left unanswered, the only additional communication from the NCAA so far has been to delay the effective date from the 2021-2022 academic year to the 2022-2023 academic year.
On April 19, 2021, the Biden administration extended travel restrictions along the land ports of entry between the United States and Canada and the United States and Mexico through May 21, 2021. The border restrictions were set to expire on April 21, 2021. The restrictions, which have been in effect since March 21, 2020, specifically prohibit all “non-essential” travel at these land ports of entry to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
On March 31, 2021, the Trump administration’s Proclamation 10052, which had suspended the entry of certain H-1B, H-2B, J, and L nonimmigrant visa holders and their dependents to the United States, expired. In addition, on February 24, 2021, the Biden administration lifted Proclamation 10014, which had suspended the entry of certain immigrant visa holders through March 31, 2021. Despite these policy developments, applicants for nonimmigrant work visas and immigrant visas can still expect continued delays in obtaining visas due to COVID-19–related issues.
On May 6, 2021, the Alabama legislature approved a medical marijuana legalization bill. Senate Bill (SB) 46, more commonly known as the Darren Wesley ‘Ato’ Hall Compassion Act, will now go to Governor Kay Ivey for final approval. Governor Ivey has not indicated that she will veto the bill, although a spokesperson for Governor Ivey has stated that she “look[s] forward to thoroughly reviewing it.”
On May 3, 2021, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) acting associate director of the Service Center Operations Directorate, Connie L. Nolan, indicated in a court filing that USCIS is finalizing a policy that will temporarily suspend the requirement to submit biometrics for certain individuals filing Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status.
On November 30, 2020, California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, more commonly known as Cal/OSHA, adopted COVID-19 Prevention Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS) for California. Among other topics, the ETS required that employers develop a written COVID-19 Prevention Program and provided guidance on how employers should address COVID-19 cases and outbreaks in the workplace. Since Cal/OSHA issued its ETS, the California workplace landscape has changed dramatically, with large-scale vaccinations for all ages and employees returning to work across the state.
On April 20, 2021, Alabama governor Kay Ivey signed into law a name, image, and likeness (NIL) bill, making Alabama the tenth state to enact such legislation.
Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) authorized U.S. employers with employees who are taking physical proximity precautions to remotely inspect identity and work authorization documents when completing Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, rather than review original documents in person.
Echoing his mantra of building back better, on May 5, 2021, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the New York Health and Essential Rights Act (NY HERO Act), which mandates extensive new workplace health and safety protections in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On May 3, 2021, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) released updated public health recommendations advising that fully vaccinated non-healthcare workers can refrain from quarantining after a known workplace exposure to COVID-19, but only if they are asymptomatic.
On April 23, 2021, an amendment to the Mexican Labor Law was published in the Official Gazette of the Federation. Below are the key points about the amendment and how they will affect employers that outsource or subcontract work.
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania recently held unenforceable a no-hire provision in a service contract between a logistics company and a trucking firm. In Pittsburgh Logistics Systems, Inc. v. Beemac Trucking LLC, et. al., the court reasoned that the no-hire provision at issue was overly broad and undermined fair competition for employees in the shipping and logistics industry.
As expected, on April 28, 2021, Governor Henry McMaster signed the “South Carolina COVID-19 Liability Immunity Act” (Senate Bill 147) into law. The act, which provides protection from “coronavirus claims” to a broad class of covered entities and covered individuals, went into effect immediately and “appl[ies] to all civil and administrative causes of action that arise between March 13, 2020, and June 30, 2021, or  days after the final state of emergency is lifted for COVID-19 in [South Carolina], whichever is later, and that are based upon facts occurring during this time period.”
On April 30, 2021, the Biden administration issued a proclamation that implements restrictions for travelers from India, due to concerns regarding COVID-19. Pursuant to the proclamation, noncitizens who have been physically present in India within 14 days of travel to the United States will be barred entry, unless eligible for an exception. The restrictions are scheduled to take effect on May 4, 2021, at 12:01 am eastern daylight time.
States have been busy when it comes to marijuana laws. Before the mid-2010s, employers tended not to worry about state marijuana laws because of marijuana’s illegal status under federal law. However, those days are over, and state marijuana legalization laws continue to affect how employers can run their workplaces.
On April 21, 2021, in a further push to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations for those individuals who have been hesitant, the White House issued a fact sheet titled, “President Biden to Call on All Employers to Provide Paid Time Off for Employees to Get Vaccinated After Meeting Goal of 200 Million Shots in the First 100 Days.” This announcement further signals the administration’s dedication to vaccinating the U.S. population and its willingness to offer incentives to employers that support their employees in becoming vaccinated. Employers that have remained neutral on this issue could be persuaded to “take up arms” and join the fight against COVID-19.
After weeks of improving pandemic conditions in Mexico—since March 2021, none of Mexico’s 32 states has been classified in red status, the strictest tier of the federal government’s four-tiered COVID-19 traffic light monitoring system—there has been a slight regression in the epidemiological trend.
On April 29, 2021, the Government of Ontario stated that it plans to introduce the COVID-19 Putting Workers First Act. When passed, this legislation “would require employers to provide employees with up to three days of paid leave because of certain reasons related to COVID-19.” According to a government press release, the act would apply retroactively to April 19, 2021, and would expire on September 25, 2021.