On September 8, 2021, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) announced its proposed powered haulage rule for surface mines and surface areas of underground mines. The proposed rule, which is open to public comment through November 8, 2021, will be set out at a new 30 C.F.R. §§ 56.23000–23004; §§ 57.23000–23004; and §§ 77.2100–2104 (surface coal). The proposed rule would require mine operators with six or more miners to develop and implement a written powered haulage safety program.
The California Legislature will soon send Senate Bill (SB) No. 606 to Governor Gavin Newsom, who is likely to sign the bill into law. The bill would make substantial changes to the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s (Cal/OSHA) citation structure by creating two new categories of violations: “enterprise-wide” and “egregious.” The bill would also provide Cal/OSHA with additional subpoena power during investigations.
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).
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
It has been more than five months since President Biden took office, and while there is still a lot to learn about the prospective enforcement focus of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), some priorities have become clearer.
Germany’s nationwide “emergency brake” system—the public health framework of rules and restrictions first implemented by the German government in April 2021 to help contain the spread of COVID-19—expired on June 30, 2021, and, slowly but surely, some semblance of normality has begun returning to German citizens’ private and working lives. Due to a sharp drop in COVID-19 infection rates in Germany and because of the progress of Germany’s vaccination campaign, the federal government recently determined that the time was right to relax restrictive measures.
As the COVID-19 pandemic enters a new phase in the United States and employees return to the workplace, some employers may need to face controversial issues regarding vaccinated and unvaccinated employees. Below are some considerations for employers as they take steps to prevent or resolve workplace disagreements regarding vaccines and other workplace safety measures to help employees focus on work.
On July 8, 2021, the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division (Oregon OSHA) adopted temporary rules to bolster worker protections from the hazards of high and extreme heat, including requirements to provide shade, drinking water, cool-down breaks, an effective emergency medical plan, and training to all employees. Oregon OSHA adopted the Temporary Rules to Address Employee Exposure to High Ambient Temperatures on an emergency basis in response to direction from Oregon Governor Kate Brown, following a record-breaking heat wave that hit the Pacific Northwest in late June.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed legislation (A5820/S3866) and Executive Order (EO) No. 244 on June 4, 2021, ending the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (but not the overall state of emergency) first declared on March 9, 2020, in EO 103.
On May 5, 2021, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the New York Health and Essential Rights Act (NY HERO Act), which “mandates extensive new workplace health and safety protections in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Effective June 30, 2021, Oregon Governor Kate Brown, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), and the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division (Oregon OSHA) lifted most statewide mask and physical distancing restrictions related to COVID-19, with limited exceptions. Mask requirements remain in place in some specialized settings, including healthcare, emergency medical services, public transit, transportation hubs, and correctional facilities. In addition, businesses may continue to require individuals to wear masks, face coverings, or face shields, and physically distance regardless of vaccination status. Individuals may continue to wear masks, face coverings, or face shields, even when not required, if they choose to do so.
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 Kate Brown signed into law Senate Bill (SB) 483, which amends the Oregon Safe Employment Act to increase whistleblower protections for workplace safety complaints.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently took a fresh look at the test for discrimination under Section 105(c) of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 (Mine Act), issuing a decision that could signal a major shift in the way Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) discrimination cases are litigated.
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.
On June 17, 2021, at the end of yet another chaotic day in administrative rulemaking, California’s new COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS) finally became effective. The ETS bring substantial changes to the COVID-19 regulatory requirements with which employers have struggled since California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) initial ETS took effect almost 7 months ago, on November 30, 2020.
On May 5, 2021, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the New York Health and Essential Rights Act (NY HERO Act), which mandates workplace health and safety protections from any airborne infectious disease that the commissioner of health has designated as “a highly contagious communicable disease that presents a serious risk of harm to the public health.” On June 11, 2021, Governor Cuomo signed legislation to amend the NY HERO Act. The amendments extend the effective date of section 1 of the act, pertaining to the creation and adoption of airborne infectious disease plans. Pursuant to the amendment, section 1 will take effect on July 5, 2021. Section 2, which pertains to the establishment of workplace safety committees, will take effect on November 1, 2021.
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.