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.
On September 9, 2021, the Biden administration announced a new plan to combat the ongoing coronavirus pandemic in the United States. A critical component of that plan calls on the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to develop and implement a new emergency temporary standard (ETS) to require employers with more than 100 employees to require that their employees are either fully vaccinated or subject to COVID-19 testing at least once per week.
On September 6, 2021, New York State Commissioner of Health Howard A. Zucker designated COVID-19 as “a highly contagious communicable disease that presents a serious risk of harm to the public health in New York State.” As a result of the commissioner’s designation, employers are required to activate their airborne infectious disease exposure prevention plans in accordance with the New York Health and Essential Rights Act (NY HERO Act).
Effective October 1, 2021, and in compliance with new instructions from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 vaccinations will be required for applicants for lawful permanent residence (i.e., green card status). On August 17, 2021, the CDC announced in guidance for civil surgeons that the new requirement will apply to persons who are seeking to adjust their immigration status within the United States as well as those applying for an immigrant visa at U.S. consulates abroad.
The Government of Ontario announced that starting September 22, 2021, individuals will be required to show proof of fully vaccinated status in order to gain access to certain businesses. While the regulations have not yet been published, the government has released key details concerning the plans.
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.”
For the past several months, the media have been reporting on the general labor shortage in the United States. Most manufacturers have been understaffed in their factories for even longer than this news cycle, but current events have transformed what before 2020 was merely a typical challenge for manufacturers seeking to hire enough people, into a dilemma that for many is mission critical. Even if understaffed manufacturers have been able to hit most or all customer deadlines this year, continuing to operate with staffing shortages for too long can cause short- and long-term damage to workforces and therefore businesses. Requiring employees to work excessive overtime hours not only leads to employee burn out, but it also increases unplanned absences, work injuries, overuse of leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), additional compensation for overtime premiums, disengagement (with resulting lost productivity), and attrition.
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.
On August 12, 2021, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it will temporarily extend the validity period for Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record, from the current two-year period to four years, due to processing delays related to COVID-19.
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.
On August 1, 2021, Louisiana stopped paying the $300 weekly supplemental unemployment benefit payment provided by federal law. Prior to the elimination of the benefit, six Louisiana residents sued the Louisiana Workforce Commission and Governor John Bel Edwards to compel the restoration of the $300 weekly benefit payment.
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.
On August 11, 2021, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins signed an emergency executive order, taking effect at 11:59 p.m. that same day, requiring “all child care centers and Pre-K through 12 Public Schools operating in Dallas County,” as well as “all commercial entities in Dallas County providing goods or services directly to the public,” to “develop and implement a health and safety policy” that requires “universal indoor masking” regardless of vaccination status.
As of August 8, 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has received more than 5,558 whistleblower complaints related to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic (and State Plans have received an additional 2,118 complaints). Notably, President Joe Biden has made it clear that OSHA enforcement focused on “violations that put the largest number of workers at serious risk [of COVID-19] or are contrary to anti-retaliation principles” is a priority of his administration.
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 July 26, 2021, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released Notice 2021-46 to provide additional guidance on the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) subsidy under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA). On May 18, 2021, the IRS released Notice 2021-31 to address issues related to subsidy eligibility and calculation of the tax credit.
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.
On July 28, 2021, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms issued an indoor mask mandate via executive order that requires “all persons in an entity or a public place [to] wear a facial covering or mask over the mouth and nose at all times when indoors.”
On August 2, 2021, the City and County of San Francisco updated Health Officer Order No. C19-07y, entitled “Encouraging COVID-19 Vaccine Coverage and Reducing Disease Risks (Safer Return Together),” to require all individuals, including the fully vaccinated, to wear face coverings in indoor public settings, with some exceptions.
On July 22, 2021, the Biden administration extended travel restrictions affecting travel between U.S., Canadian, and Mexican land ports of entry until August 21, 2021. In so doing, the Biden administration confirmed that it is “maintaining cross-border activities with Canada and Mexico that support health security, trade, commerce, supply security, and other essential activities while taking critical steps to protect [U.S.] citizens and to curb spread of the virus.”
Louisiana has become the first state with a Democratic governor to pass a law eliminating the $300-per-week supplemental unemployment benefit created by the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA). Under the new measure, Act No. 276, which Governor John Bel Edwards signed into law on June 15, 2021, Louisiana eliminated the $300 benefit, effective August 1, 2021, while increasing the weekly maximum benefit amount.
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.