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.
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.
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.”
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 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.
In recent weeks, Oregon has seen a sharp rise in the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations due to the more contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus, which threatens to overwhelm local hospitals. On August 5, 2021, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) adopted a temporary rule on an emergency basis in response to Governor Kate Brown’s direction to curb and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in healthcare settings.
On September 29, 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law Assembly Bill (AB) 2537, one of the latest in a series of legislative enactments designed to protect employees from COVID-19 exposure in the workplace.
Growing numbers of private businesses and public entities have announced policies requiring employees and others to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of employment or as a condition of access to facilities or services. In response to this trend, some have argued that employers and other organizations may not lawfully mandate COVID-19 vaccines that have been only approved for use under an emergency use authorization (EUA) as opposed to full approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Commentators and legal advisors have been divided over whether the EUA approval precludes mandating the vaccine. On July 6, 2021, the Office of Legal Counsel of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a memorandum opining that private businesses and public entities are not prohibited from mandating COVID-19 vaccines that have only received approval for use under an EUA.
On June 22, 2021, the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) announced important changes to its emergency COVID-19 rules, “Emergency Rules Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).”
On June 15, 2021, Governor Tom Wolf’s administration certified the results of the May 2021 municipal primary election, and thereby formalized the approval of an amendment to the Constitution of Pennsylvania giving lawmakers the broad new power to extend or end disaster emergency declarations. Because the Philadelphia Public Health Emergency Leave law was set to “expire upon the expiration of the Proclamation of Disaster Emergency of the Governor of Pennsylvania related to the COVID-19 pandemic,” and the legislature voted on June 10, 2021, to end the disaster emergency declaration, it is now safe to say that the Philadelphia Public Health Emergency Leave law is no longer in effect.
Many workplace leaders have been wondering, “Can we require employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of employment?” According to a recent Ogletree Deakins benchmarking survey, most employers are not ready to implement mandatory vaccination policies, and 87.9 percent of employers reported that they currently do not plan to require workers to get the vaccine. On the other end of the spectrum, 7.6 percent of respondents have implemented (or are planning to implement) a vaccination mandate. The rest have been undecided, but a recent court opinion on the legality of such mandatory policies may shift some employers’ feelings about which direction they should go and when.
On the morning of June 9, 2021, the White House Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) announced it completed its review of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) for COVID-19. At a hearing later that day before the U.S. House of Representatives Education and Labor Committee, Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh told legislators that OSHA expected to release the ETS by June 10, 2021, and that it would be confined to the healthcare industry. All other industries would receive updated “strong guidance” on safely protecting unvaccinated workers.
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 meet certain criteria, with reimbursement by the Commonwealth.
Just as the calendar was turning to 2021, the Council of the District of Columbia threw District of Columbia employers a late-breaking curveball that most did not see coming. The Ban on Non-Compete Agreements Amendment Act of 2020 (D.C. Act 23-563) was passed by the Council on December 15, 2020, and signed by Mayor Muriel Bowser on January 11, 2021. The legislation, which will create a near-total ban on noncompete agreements, took the Washington, D.C., business community by surprise. The final text is substantially broader than the more modest bill that was proposed originally, and the legislation goes well beyond laws enacted in other jurisdictions to curtail the use of post-employment noncompete agreements.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires employers to pay nonexempt employees at least minimum wage for all hours worked up to 40 hours in a workweek and time and one-half for all hours worked over 40 hours in the same workweek. An exception to this rule exists for volunteers, who are not categorized as “employees” under the statute. Typically, volunteers are individuals who donate their time to non-profit, civic, religious, and other charitable organizations.
A February 2021 California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) press release trumpeted the agency’s enforcement efforts and its recently issued citations for COVID-19–related violations. Cal/OSHA continues to aggressively issue “serious” classification citations to California employers. For example, Cal/OSHA issued “serious” and “willful-serious” citations with hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties against a sister agency, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation dba San Quentin State Prison, for COVID-19–related violations.
Over 1,500 COVID-19–related employment lawsuits were filed in the United States in 2020. Ogletree Deakins’ Interactive COVID-19 Litigation Tracker highlights the industries impacted, locations, and types of claims in these matters.
The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) recently updated its frequently asked questions (FAQs) guidance, “COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards Frequently Asked Questions”. The FAQs clarified some areas of the regulation and provided additional guidance for California employers, particularly construction companies. Under the Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS) adopted on November 30, 2020, California construction companies face specific standards related to transportation and workplace exposures that create unique questions and challenges.
Employers can expect an active 2021 Connecticut General Assembly since the 2020 legislative session was cut short. (The session lasted a little over a month before it was suspended on March 12, 2020, due to the pandemic and then officially adjourned on May 6, 2020.)
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued two Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) opinion letters on December 31, 2020. One of those letters addresses travel time that occurs when employees schedule personal appointments during the workday and perform portions of their work remotely. The other addresses compensation arrangements for live-in home health care workers whose shifts may extend beyond 24 hours.
Beginning in 2022, employer-sponsored health plans will be required to pay providers certain emergency and out-of-network charges that would have otherwise been balance billed to participants.
The news that several COVID-19 vaccines have been developed—and one approved for widespread use in the United Kingdom (Pfizer-BioNTech)—has come as a relief to many. Such news has prompted consideration of the legitimacy of compulsory vaccination in the United Kingdom, particularly in an employment context.
We previously reported on COVID-19–related employment lawsuits that we tracked from late March 2020 through early May 2020. Since then, the number of lawsuits has steadily risen as employers have resumed operations after shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders were lifted and students returned to school in virtual or hybrid environments. To track this litigation and to identify trends, we developed an Interactive COVID-19 Litigation Tracker that details where COVID-19–related litigation is taking place by state, the industries affected, and the types of claims asserted against employers and educational institutions.
On September 14, 2020, Governor Mike DeWine signed House Bill (H.B.) 606 into law, providing employers with legal protections when it comes to their efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19 and making Ohio one of a growing number of states granting similar civil immunity. According to Governor DeWine, the new law accomplishes the dual goals of keeping people safe and rebuilding the state’s economy.
Each year we review the validity of mandatory flu vaccinations. It is usually in the context of health care organizations, as few other employers have had the same need. In the last few years, the analysis has remained the same: (1) what is the justification (often, employee and patient safety); (2) will there be medical and/or religious exemptions; and, if so, (3) what is the accommodation (it has generally been wearing a mask all times at work).
On September 9, 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law Assembly Bill (AB) 1867, which requires large employers and some health care providers to provide up to 80 hours of paid leave for COVID-19–related reasons. The new law also codifies the governor’s previously issued executive order setting forth paid sick leave and handwashing requirements for food sector workers, creates a small business family leave mediation pilot program, and addresses enforcement issues in California’s pre-COVID-19 paid sick leave law.
On September 11, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) partially ended the mystery of when and how it would respond to the August 3, 2020, decision from the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York in which the court—stating that the DOL had “jumped the rail”—struck down several provisions of the DOL’s final rule implementing the emergency family leave and paid sick leave provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).
Ohio employers will likely soon enjoy greater legal protections when it comes to their efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19. Acknowledging the legal uncertainties faced by essential workers and businesses in the wake of reopening, the Ohio Senate on September 2, 2020, passed House Bill (H.B.) 606, a measure which, if signed into law (and it is expected that Governor Mike DeWine will sign the bill very quickly), would grant state-law immunity from civil lawsuits for “injury, death, or loss” related to “the transmission or contraction” of the novel coronavirus.
By all accounts, the availability of a vaccine for COVID-19 is a matter of when, not if. According to the World Health Organization, as of August 25, 2020, 173 potential vaccines are currently being developed in labs across the world, 31 of which have advanced to clinical stage testing on humans. Drug manufacturers estimate that a vaccine will be ready and approved for general use by the end of this year or early 2021.