Employers, Don’t Let Your Guard Down: COVID-19–Related Employment Lawsuits Are in Full Swing

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.

Governor DeWine Signs Law Shielding Ohio Employers From Liability for COVID-19–Related Lawsuits

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.

Is a COVID-19 Mandatory Vaccine in Your Company’s Future? Considerations at the Start of Flu Season

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).

California Implements New COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave Requirement

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.

Families First Coronavirus Response Act: DOL Gets Back on the Rail

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 Legislation Would Grant Employers State-Law Immunity From COVID-19–Related Civil Lawsuits

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.

Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccination: Is It Legal and Is It Right for Your Workplace?

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.

Opioid Addiction and the ADA: The EEOC Provides Timely Guidance

It is established that an employee’s drug addiction may qualify as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), provided the employee is not currently using illicit substances. In the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) Technical Assistance Manual on the Employment Provisions (Title I) of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the EEOC states that “[p]ersons addicted to drugs, but who are no longer using drugs illegally and are receiving treatment for drug addiction or who have been rehabilitated successfully, are protected by the ADA from discrimination on the basis of past drug addiction.” While the EEOC’s nonregulatory pronouncements do not have the force of law, courts addressing the issue generally have adopted this position.

New York Federal Court Says DOL ‘Jumped the Rail’ When It Issued FFCRA Regulations

On August 3, 2020, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York upended several employer-friendly limitations in the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) regulations implementing the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). Specifically, the court struck down the DOL’s regulations regarding: (1) the requirement that employers actually have work available for employees in order to be eligible for leave; (2) the broad definition of “health care provider” under the final rule; (3) the requirement that employees obtain employer approval for intermittent leave; and (4) the requirement that employees provide documentation prior to taking FFCRA leave.

Is Your Organization Exempted From OFCCP Jurisdiction Under the VA MISSION Act?

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks (MISSION) Act of 2018’s primary objectives are to provide veterans with greater access to health care in VA facilities and communities, to expand benefits for caregivers, and to improve the VA’s ability to retain and recruit the best medical providers.

Guidance Clarifies COVID-19 Testing Coverage Requirements for Employer Health Plans

Employers have more clarity on COVID-19 testing coverage requirements—including new details on at-home tests, return-to-work testing, and out-of-network pricing—under new guidance that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the U.S. Department of the Treasury jointly prepared.

New Indiana Physician Noncompete Agreement Requirements Become Effective on July 1, 2020

Significant new requirements for physician noncompete agreements in Indiana took effect on July 1, 2020, including mandatory language allowing a physician to purchase “a complete and final release” from a noncompete agreement “at a reasonable price.” The law also includes several provisions related to notices that employers must provide to patients and doctors when a physician’s employment has terminated or contract expires.

Let the Masking Debate Continue, but Maybe Not in Our Hospitals

In 2015, long before COVID-19 emerged, a hospital disciplined and discharged a recruiter in its HR department who refused to obtain a hospital-required influenza vaccination or to don a mask at work as an alternative. In a case we started to track three years ago, a federal judge entered summary judgment for the employer this week.

Can Employees Refuse to Return to Work Because of COVID-19?

Parts of the country have begun the process of returning to work, in places where COVID-19 infection rates have flattened or shown a decline. But the risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 remains, and some employers may be faced with parts of their workforces refusing to return to work or to perform certain assignments, citing the health risk. What are employers’ options with respect to such employees? There are both legal and practical considerations.

OSHA Issues COVID-19 Guidance for Nursing Home and Long-Term Care Facilities

On May 14, 2020, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a one-page guidance sheet titled “COVID-19 Guidance for Nursing Home and Long-Term Care Facility Workers.” The guidance lists several tips that employers in the nursing home and long-term care facility industry may take to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19.

Triaging Employee Refusals to Work Due to COVID-19: A Legal Update for Healthcare Employers

Employees—particularly healthcare employees—are increasingly refusing to work because of safety concerns and the need for accommodations related to COVID-19. In certain circumstances, these refusals may trigger protections afforded by the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), among others.

Colorado’s Trek Back to Normal: Return-to-Work Orders After the COVID-19 Closures

On March 5, 2020, Colorado reported its first cases of coronavirus, which would multiply exponentially over the following weeks. Since then, the state and various municipalities, including Denver, have actively responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by issuing a series of orders affecting businesses and their requirements with respect to their employees.

CDC Issues Strategies to Mitigate Healthcare Staffing Shortages

On April 30, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidance titled Strategies to Mitigate Healthcare Personnel Staffing Shortages. As maintaining appropriate staffing levels is essential to providing both a safe working environment and proper patient care, the guidance offers a series of recommendations on contingency plans that healthcare providers experiencing staffing shortages may wish to consider.

Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act: Is Relief On the Way for Physicians and Nurses?

On May 5, 2020, a bipartisan group of senators, including Senator David Perdue (R-GA), Todd Young (R-IN), John Cornyn (R-TX), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chris Coons (D-DE), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), introduced the Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act (Senate Bill 3599). The goal of the proposed legislation is to temporarily address the country’s shortage of doctors and nurses, strengthen the healthcare workforce, and improve healthcare access during the COVID-19 crisis.

What’s Changed, What Hasn’t: A Review of HIPAA Rules in a COVID-19 Context

With employers planning for employees to return to work following COVID-19–related closures, there are sure to be questions about sharing employee medical information as it relates to COVID-19 (symptoms, test results, status) within the workplace and with public authorities. Now may be a good time to review what has changed about federal privacy rules in light of the COVID-19 pandemic—and what hasn’t.

OSHA Issues Enforcement Guidance on Decontamination of N95 Respirators in Healthcare

On April 24, 2020, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a memorandum titled “Enforcement Guidance on Decontamination of Filtering Facepiece Respirators in Healthcare During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic.” The guidance submits a list of approved and nonapproved decontamination methods for cleaning filtering facepiece respirators (FFRs), which are better known as N95 “dust mask” respirators.

An Update on Coronavirus Contact Tracing: Status, Benefits, and Key Considerations

Since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers have been engaged in varying levels of contact tracing within the workplace. Contact tracing involves identifying individuals who may have been in close contact with a person who tested positive for the coronavirus while that person was likely infectious. As part of employers’ pandemic response practices, many are implementing policies and procedures that attempt to ascertain the identities of employees who may have been in “close contact” with employees diagnosed with COVID-19, or those suspected of having contracted the virus.

COVID-19 Likely Responsible for Hike in OSHA “Fatality/Catastrophe” Investigations at Healthcare Facilities

Compared to the first three weeks of April in 2019, April 1, 2020, through April 21, 2020, had a 720 percent increase in healthcare facility inspections in the “Fatality/Catastrophe” category. A stunning increase from 5 inspections in 2019 to 36 in 2020 during the same three weeks. Those inspections include hospitals and other medical facilities. The inspection information does not include any information about COVID-19, however, the massive increase in the category of inspections has no other explanation than the present pandemic and workers who have fallen ill or succumbed after contracting the virus.

Alaska Issues COVID-19 Mandates to Clarify Restrictions on Religious Gatherings and to Address Non-urgent and Elective Medical Procedures

Alaska has joined a growing number of states addressing the thorny issue of the size and density of religious gatherings during the COVID-19 health crisis. Like other states, Alaska has attempted to balance the constitutional rights of free exercise of religion and peaceable assembly with legitimate public health concerns warranting the practice of social distancing.

OSHA’s New COVID-19 Inspection Plan: What Employers Should Expect

On April 13, 2020, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued its Interim Enforcement Response Plan for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), which provides a blueprint for the agency’s Area Directors and inspectors to follow when considering opening and conducting a COVID-19-related inspection. The plan gives employers a glimpse into what to expect from OSHA during the pandemic.

Healthcare Employers Facing OSHA Scrutiny During the COVID-19 Pandemic

As a result of COVID-19’s impact on the healthcare industry, both the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and state plans like California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (more commonly known as Cal/OSHA) are seeing a significant increase in complaints, inspections, and investigations of workplace illnesses and fatalities. Anecdotally, the healthcare industry, including nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, hospitals, acute care services, and senior living facilities, appear to be facing a huge wave of regulatory inspections at a never-before-seen pace.