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.
At the end of 2019, we urged employers to keep an eye on a new recreational marijuana legalization voter initiative in Arizona: the Smart and Safe Arizona Act. Although many employers have been focused on the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, they may want to be aware that the Arizona Secretary of State has officially certified the Smart and Safe Arizona Act as one of two voter propositions on the November 2020 ballot. In addition to approving the initiative, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs has also published arguments for and against the measure.
On September 17, 2020, the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board of the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) voted unanimously to pursue the drafting and adoption of a California COVID-19 safety regulation. The emergency regulation would cover all workers in California regardless of industry segment.
On September 17, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill (AB) 685 into law, enacting California Labor Code Section 6409.6 and amending other state statutes. As explained further below, Section 6409.6 obligates employers to notify employees, the employees’ exclusive representative (such as a union), and subcontractors, within one business day of an employer’s receiving notice of a potential COVID-19 workplace exposure from a “qualifying individual.”
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.
On September 14, 2020, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed Senate Bill (SB) 2380 into law. SB 2380 creates a rebuttable presumption of workers’ compensation coverage for COVID-19 cases contracted by “essential employees” during a public health emergency declared by an executive order of the governor. The law is effective immediately and retroactive to March 9, 2020.
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 August 10, 2020, the German Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (Bundesministerium für Arbeit und Soziales (BMAS)) published the SARS-CoV-2 Occupational Safety and Health Regulation (SARS-CoV-2 Arbeitsschutzregel). For the duration of the coronavirus pandemic, this regulation, which became effective on August 20, 2020, specifies the requirements for occupational safety to reduce the risk of infection at the workplace. In doing so, BMAS is applying the presumed period of the national epidemic situation according to Section 5 of the Protection Against Infection Act (Infektionsschutzgesetz (IfSG)).
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.
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.
On May 20, 2020, worker advocates submitted a petition for an emergency COVID-19 safety standard demanding additional COVID-19 regulations for those employees not covered by the Aerosol Transmissible Diseases (ATD) standard . The ATD standard was codified in 2009 “to protect employees who are at increased risk of contracting certain airborne infections due to their work activities.” The petition included specific requests to adopt standards related to social distancing, ventilation systems, personal hygiene, personal protective equipment (PPE), employee training, and recordkeeping.
On August 17, 2020, the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Oregon OSHA), the state plan responsible for overseeing workplace safety and health in the state of Oregon, released a draft COVID-19 temporary standard. Following Virginia’s lead, Oregon will become the second state in the nation to adopt a specific standard intended to protect workers from COVID-19 exposure.
On August 7, 2020, the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) published guidance regarding the City of San Francisco’s “Temporary Right to Reemployment Following Layoff Due to COVID-19 Pandemic Emergency Ordinance.” Also known as the “Back to Work” emergency ordinance, the ordinance took effect on July 3, 2020, requiring San Francisco employers with 100 or more employees to offer reemployment to eligible employees laid off because of the COVID-19 pandemic when the employers rehire for the same or similar job classifications.
Despite all that is going on in the world, the California legislature has been busy this year. Below is a summary of the major employment law bills that are working their way through the state Assembly and Senate.
On July 22, 2020, Health Officer Tomás J. Aragón of the City and County of San Francisco issued Public Health Emergency Order No. C19-12c, entitled, “Order of the Health Officer of the City and County of San Francisco Generally Requiring Members of the Public and Workers to Wear Face Coverings.”
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has withdrawn from its website—without public explanation—a controversial interpretation of its requirement to report in-patient hospitalizations of employees who contracted work-related cases of COVID-19.
On July 24, 2020, the State of California released its “COVID-19 Employer Playbook for a Safe Reopening.” According to the playbook, its purpose is to help employers “plan and prepare for reopening their business[es] and to support a safe, clean environment for workers and customers.” The Employer Playbook’s table of contents lists four major areas that the playbook addresses: (1) steps employers can take to open safely; (2) what to do if a COVID-19 case occurs in the workplace; (3) enforcement and compliance; and (4) worker education. In addition, the playbook includes three appendixes consisting of employer and worker resources, enforcement and compliance contacts, and case studies illustrating the playbook’s principles.
On July 1, 2020, Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine signed an order expanding face covering–wearing requirements in Pennsylvania. Under the order, face coverings must now be worn almost any time an individual leaves home, including in most outdoor settings.
On July 15, 2020, the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s Safety and Health Codes Board approved an Emergency Temporary Standard for COVID-19 to be enforced by the Virginia Occupational Safety and Health program (VOSH). Virginia is the first state to adopt a specific standard intended to protect workers and “to control, prevent, and mitigate the spread of [COVID-19]” in the workplace.
On July 15, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published a new interpretation of the hospitalization reporting requirement of 29 C.F.R. § 1904.39(b)(6), one that states that employers “must report the hospitalization within 24 hours of knowing both that the employee has been hospitalized and that the reason for hospitalization was COVID-19.”
As employees return to work, some employers are asking if there could be another tool to detect COVID-19 in the workplace: detection dogs. Traditionally, the military has used detection dogs to find bombs, and law enforcement has used them to sniff out narcotics, guns, electronics, or other contraband. More recently, scientists and researchers have used detection dogs to identify medical conditions.
Philadelphia recently enacted a new city ordinance protecting whistleblowers who report unsafe workplace conditions related to COVID-19.
On July 7, 2020, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued COVID-19 control and prevention guidance for oil and gas industry workers and employers. The guidance supplements OSHA’s interim guidance for the general workforce.
An administrative law judge of the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission held this week that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) had failed to show that a document the agency used to prosecute employers in heat stress cases—the National Weather Service’s heat index chart—has a scientific basis.
On July 15, 2020, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey issued an amended “Safer at Home” order, adding a facial covering requirement. This facial covering order, which goes into effect on July 16, 2020, at 5:00 p.m., requires (1) facial coverings for individuals; (2) protections for employees; and (3) protections for customers.
On May 6, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom of California issued Executive Order (EO) N-62-20, creating a temporary rebuttable presumption that employees working outside of their homes who test positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, may receive workers’ compensation benefits. In doing so, the governor simplified the process for sick employees to seek certain wage replacement benefits, and therefore sought to encourage ill employees to stay home to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
On June 25, 2020, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued Inspection Procedures for the Respirable Crystalline Silica Standards. The new procedures, 124 pages in length, went into effect immediately.
On July 1, 2020, Missouri Governor Mike Parson signed Senate Bill (SB) 591, which modifies various provisions relating to civil actions. Notably, for Missouri employers, the bill modifies and restricts the way punitive damages are considered in lawsuits brought by current or former employees who allege intentional harm by an agent of the employer (e.g., a manager, supervisor, or HR professional).
On June 26, 2020, the Georgia General Assembly passed Senate Bill (SB) 359 to limit liability for COVID-19-related claims. The bill, which is titled “Georgia COVID-19 Pandemic Business Safety Act,” has not yet been signed by Governor Brian Kemp. Several states have enacted similar legislation, including Alaska, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, and North Carolina.
On July 2, 2020, the health officer for the County of Santa Clara, California, issued a new health order titled “Establishing Mandatory Risk Reduction Measures Applicable to All Activities and Sectors to Address the COVID-19 Pandemic.” The order goes into effect on July 13, 2020.