On October 13, 2021, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson allowed a new law addressing mandated COVID-19 vaccines for employees to go into effect without his signature. The Arkansas legislation specifically allows employees to opt out of COVID-19 vaccine requirements by means other than the medical or religious exemptions allowed by federal law, and it requires employers to provide a specific exemption process.
A district judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia recently dismissed a case due to the plaintiff’s failure to file suit within the allotted time identified in the notice of right to sue (NRTS) that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued. Moyer v. Shirley Contracting Company, LLC, No. 1:21-cv-00046 (August 18, 2021) highlights the importance of recognizing when the clock begins ticking on the deadline to file suit and how attention to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure can assist in litigation.
On October 11, 2021, Governor Greg Abbott issued Executive Order (EO) No. GA-40, prohibiting any entity in Texas from requiring any individual, including an employee, to receive a COVID-19 vaccination if that individual objects to the vaccination “for any reason of personal conscience, based on a religious belief, or for medical reasons, including prior recovery from COVID-19.”
The third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Mexico has ebbed significantly in the last few weeks—enough for the federal government to lift all restrictions on social and business activities in nine states. Under Mexico’s four-tiered COVID-19 Traffic Light Monitoring System, those nine states are in “green light” status, the only restriction-free status. Because the pandemic is ongoing, Mexico’s health authorities have continued to urge the population to reduce the risk of infection by complying with government guidelines to prevent the further spread of the virus.
In accordance with the New York Health and Essential Rights Act (NY HERO Act), on July 6, 2021, the New York State Department of Labor (NYS DOL), in consultation with the New York State Department of Health, published the Airborne Infectious Disease Exposure Prevention Standard and Model Airborne Infectious Disease Exposure Prevention Plan. Although the NYS DOL initially published the standard and model plan only in English, the NYS DOL has since furnished the standard and the model plan in Spanish. In addition to the non-industry specific model plan, the NYS DOL has created 11 industry-specific templates, which are available only in English.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an explosion of remote work, including for positions traditionally not considered eligible for remote work. As employers have returned employees to office work environments, some employees who historically worked on-site have requested continued work from home as an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). On September 7, 2021, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) brought its first lawsuit alleging that an employer had discriminated against a disabled employee by failing to accommodate her by allowing work from home due to her increased risk of COVID-19 and by terminating her employment.
In a September 28, 2021 Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) stakeholder meeting, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Jeannette J. Galanis stated that MSHA does not intend to issue an emergency temporary standard (ETS) requiring COVID-19 vaccinations or testing of miners. Instead, MSHA will continue to rely on its COVID-19 guidance to mine operators and existing statutory and regulatory enforcement capabilities.
On May 28, 2021, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed into law “An Act Providing for Massachusetts COVID-19 Emergency Paid Sick Leave.” The act requires eligible Massachusetts employers to provide emergency paid sick leave to employees who are unable to work for COVID-19–related reasons.
A federation of hotel and motel owners and operators challenged a San Diego ordinance that requires certain building service and hospitality employers to recall workers laid off due to the pandemic before hiring new employees.
Under Oregon Governor Kate Brown’s Executive Order 21-15, the state of public health emergency due to COVID-19 will continue in Oregon until December 31, 2021, unless the governor extends the deadline or terminates the state of emergency before the end of the year. Now that school is back in session in Oregon and most schools and students are returning to in-person attendance, the potential exists for school closures and/or student quarantining due to exposures to COVID-19. Employers may want to refamiliarize themselves with leave entitlements that may be available to Oregon employees under the Oregon Sick Leave (OSL) law and/or the Oregon Family Leave Act (OFLA) in the event that the children of employees are subject to quarantine orders or required closures of their schools or places of care.
On September 15, 2021, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of an employer. In Brown v. Austin, the Tenth Circuit found that an employee’s telework, weekend work, and supervisor change request were unreasonable under the federal Rehabilitation Act and that the employee had failed to allege a prima facie case of disability discrimination, retaliation, or constructive discharge.
The White House announced on September 20, 2021, that beginning in “early November” 2021, the Biden administration would remove restrictions on international travelers who are seeking to fly to the United States, provided that they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently announced that, effective October 1, 2021, applicants for permanent residence (i.e., green card applicants) who are “subject to the immigration medical examination must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before the civil surgeon can complete … [the] examination and sign Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record.” USCIS stated that this requirement “applies prospectively to all Forms I-693 signed by the civil surgeons” on or after October 1, 2021.
In order to slow the transmission rate of COVID-19 and safeguard the health of people in Puerto Rico, Governor Pedro Pierluisi recently issued a series of executive orders mandating COVID-19 vaccinations in certain instances.
The COVID-19 traffic light scenario in the states of Mexico still looks complicated, with only Chiapas and Chihuahua among the nation’s states operating without restrictions on social and business activities. Therefore, the federal Ministry of Health continues to urge the population to reduce the risk of infection by complying with the sanitary measures with which Mexico’s residents are all too familiar.
On August 31, 2021, the Government of Ontario extended the period for the province’s paid infectious disease emergency leave (IDEL) entitlement from its original expiration date of September 25, 2021, to December 31, 2021.
To ensure “that the parties that contract with the Federal Government provide adequate COVID-19 safeguards to their workers performing on or in connection with a Federal Government contract,” President Biden has issued yet another executive order (EO) mandating that some federal contractors and subcontractors comply with Guidance published by the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force.
The New York attorney general’s August 3, 2021, report regarding the sexual harassment allegations brought against former New York governor Andrew Cuomo, “Report of Investigation Into Allegations of Sexual Harassment by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo,” contains extraordinary detail to support the conclusion that Cuomo “sexually harassed a number of current and former New York State employees.” Beyond noting the political consequences of the investigation, employers in New York and elsewhere may wish to consider utilizing these recent developments as an opportunity to reassess their workplace practices to minimize the likelihood of events occurring similar to those described in the report. Among the many potential action items and considerations, below are tips on training, education, and communication that employers may wish to explore as a result of the Cuomo report.
On August 5, 2021, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) adopted a temporary rule on an emergency basis requiring healthcare providers and healthcare staff who work in healthcare settings to either be vaccinated against COVID-19 or face periodic COVID-19 testing by September 30, 2021.
About 63 percent of Mexico’s adult population has received a vaccination against COVID-19, but the pandemic situation has still worsened considerably, with only one of the nation’s 32 states having no restrictions on social and business activities as recommended under the nation’s pandemic traffic light monitoring system.
On August 23, 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted full approval to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. Moderna’s expedited application for full approval is still pending, and Johnson & Johnson plans to submit its application for full approval sometime later this year.
On August 18, 2021, President Joe Biden announced from the White House that his administration would require nursing homes to vaccinate their staffs against COVID-19 or risk losing Medicaid and Medicare funding. He said that this step was designed to keep people safe amid the rising number of COVID-19 cases across the country caused by the highly transmissible Delta variant. He stated: “With this announcement, I’m using the power of the federal government, as a payer of healthcare costs, to ensure we reduce those risks to our most vulnerable seniors.”
On August 18, 2021, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced that the prior August 23, 2021, EEO-1 filing deadline for the 2019 and 2020 EEO-1 reports has been moved to October 25, 2021. The EEOC cited the “continuing impact of the pandemic on business operations” as the justification for this two-month extension of the earlier deadline.
As the number of new cases of the Delta variant of COVID-19 continues to grow nationwide, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced, on August 18, 2021, measures to prioritize patient safety in nursing homes and hospitals. Effective August 18, 2021, Maryland is requiring employees in the state’s nursing homes and hospitals to provide proof of vaccination or to adhere to a regular COVID-19 screening and testing protocol. This protocol includes mandatory weekly COVID-19 testing on-site for individuals who fail to show proof of full vaccination status and the required wearing of personal protective equipment (PPE) provided by the facility.
On August 3, 2021, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that proof of vaccination would be required for individuals to enter certain indoor establishments. In a first of its kind mandate, New York City officially implemented the “Key to NYC” through Emergency Executive Order 225, which became effective on August 17, 2021.
The August 3, 2021, report regarding the sexual harassment allegations brought against former New York governor Andrew Cuomo, “Report of Investigation into Allegations of Sexual Harassment by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo” resulted in his resignation on August 10, 2021, and renewed attention to the #MeToo movement. As a political wonk and an employment lawyer, these events have been of great interest. Also noteworthy, are the lessons one can glean from the report in how to conduct an effective workplace investigation.
On August 12, 2021, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell and the City of New Orleans Health Department announced updated Guidelines for COVID-19 Reopening, which require individuals to provide proof of “having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine” or “evidence of a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken no more than 72 hours before entry” in order to access certain indoor establishments.
The number of U.S. workers choosing to be vaccinated plateaued earlier this summer. As a result, employers, many of which hoped to return employees to the workplace in early fall, were left to debate whether to require employees to get vaccinated or to merely “strongly encourage” vaccination. Although many mandatory vaccination policies may pass legal scrutiny, they may nonetheless raise cultural tensions and raise the risk of losing employees in an already tight labor market.
With transmission of the Delta variant on the rise, many employers are revisiting plans to implement COVID-19 vaccination policies. As we have previously explained, employers may encourage and mandate vaccination against COVID-19, subject to exceptions for covered disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act and sincerely held religious beliefs under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Guidance that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently issued has been consistent with this position and federal courts have recently affirmed the same.