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 May 28, 2021, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) updated the vaccination section (section K) of its “What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws.” The update clarifies a number of vaccination issues with which employers have grappled without any official guidance to advise them.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its guidance, titled Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People, on May 13, 2021, rolling back recommendations for wearing face masks, social distancing, and other protective measures for those who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
On April 2, 2021, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced updated guidance on domestic and international travel. The guidance includes new recommendations for those fully vaccinated (defined as two weeks after the second dose in a two-dose series or two weeks after a single-dose vaccine) with a vaccine that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized.
On March 8, 2021, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new interim recommendations regarding individuals who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. As the COVID-19 vaccines have become more widely distributed, the new recommendations address how to manage vaccinated individuals with respect to social gatherings, contact tracing, and other mitigation matters in non-healthcare settings. The following are the key points about which employers may want to know and that they may wish to incorporate into their company procedures.
On February 11, 2021, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated materials on its website pertaining to when individuals should quarantine after exposure to someone with COVID-19. Specifically, on the “When to Quarantine” page on its website, the CDC now states that “[p]eople who have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 are not required to quarantine if they have been fully vaccinated against the disease within the last three months and show no symptoms.”
On December 16, 2020, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued revised COVID-19 guidance addressing questions related to the administration of COVID-19 vaccinations to employees. Section K of the guidance now addresses several common questions employers have raised with respect to the now-available COVID-19 vaccine.
In its most recent COVIDView weekly update, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that levels of COVID-19 “virus circulation and associated illnesses” have been rising nationally since September 2020. The CDC has also issued a “COVID-19 Alert,” noting that “COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths across the United States are rising.” In the context of such rising cases and increased scientific knowledge about the virus, the CDC made significant changes to its critical infrastructure sector guidance on November 16, 2020. In the revised guidance, the CDC urges employers to allow exposed but asymptomatic critical infrastructure personnel to continue to work only as “a last resort and only in limited circumstances.” [Emphasis in original.]
This year has been challenging for a number of reasons, not least of which is the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the workplace. After months of isolation and remote operations, many employers and employees are eagerly looking forward to opportunities during the approaching holiday season to come together (in person or virtually) to share festive spirit and reflect on the good times from this past year despite the setbacks. Nevertheless, we remain in the midst of a global pandemic, and many communities are experiencing an increase in the number of cases. While employers may welcome the opportunity to celebrate and strengthen employee morale this holiday season, they may want to assess the state of the pandemic in their respective communities and consider practical strategies for making holiday gatherings and celebrations as safe as possible.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has refined its guidelines regarding what is considered a “close contact” exposure to COVID-19.
On August 21, 2020, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revised its COVID-19 travel guidelines, removing the blanket 14-day quarantine recommendation for travelers returning from all international destinations.
On August 4, 2020, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a communication plan titled “COVID-19 Communication Plan for Select Non-healthcare Critical Infrastructure Employers.” The purpose of the plan is to outline actions certain critical infrastructure employers may consider to disseminate COVID-19 messages with employees more effectively.
On July 17, 2020, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revised its Discontinuation of Isolation for Persons with COVID-19 Not in Healthcare Settings interim guidance. This is the guidance upon which employers rely in determining when employees are safe to return to work after being sick with or testing positive for COVID-19.
On July 3, 2020, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidance entitled “SARS-CoV-2 Testing Strategy: Considerations for Non-Healthcare Workplaces.” The new guidance recommends incorporating COVID-19 testing in five scenarios: (1) testing individuals with COVID-19-related symptoms; (2) testing asymptomatic individuals with a recent known or suspected exposure in order to control transmission; (3) testing asymptomatic individuals without a recent known or suspected exposure for early identification in special settings; (4) testing to determine when an individual may discontinue home isolation; and (5) testing for public health surveillance.
On June 17, 2020, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued an update to its COVID-19 Technical Assistance Questions & Answers, providing guidance on the use of antibody tests by employers.
On June 11, 2020, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued an update to its COVID-19 technical assistance publication. The update provides new guidance for employers on the topics of accommodating employees with family members at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19, handling pandemic-related harassment, caregiver responsibilities, and pregnancy issues.
On May 17, 2020, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a 60-page document entitled CDC Activities and Initiatives Supporting the COVID-19 Response and the President’s Plan for Opening America Up Again. In the document, the CDC (1) explains and expands upon the gating criteria articulated in President Donald Trump’s Opening Up America Again guidelines; (2) outlines the CDC’s various COVID-19 activities and initiatives, including monitoring the continued progression of COVID-19, support of increased contact tracing capacity, and other activities; and (3) provides testing guidance.
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.
In an April 20, 2020, update to its General Business Frequently Asked Questions, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) included some advice to employers on how to conduct employee temperature screens. While noting that there are several methods employers could utilize to conduct temperature screenings, the CDC provides three particular examples for employers to consider.
On April 28, 2020, the County of Los Angeles Board of Supervisors unanimously passed an interim urgency ordinance requiring employers with 500 or more employees to provide supplemental paid leave for COVID-19-related reasons. This follows similar measures taken over recent weeks in other local jurisdictions, such as San Francisco.
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.
On April 24, 2020, President Trump signed the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, which will allocate over $480 billion in additional funding for the federal COVID-19 response.
On April 14, 2020, the State of New York filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) seeking declaratory and injunctive relief in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. In the lawsuit, New York challenges the April 1, 2020, final rule that the DOL issued implementing the emergency family leave and paid sick leave requirements of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).
Employers continuing to operate as essential businesses under the various state closure orders, or that are now beginning to plan to reopen or return workers as restrictions are scheduled to ease or phase out in various jurisdictions, are increasingly focused on how best to screen employees for COVID-19 as they report to work.
On April 8, 2020, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued its new Interim Guidance for Implementing Safety Practices for Critical Infrastructure Workers Who May Have Had Exposure to a Person with Suspected or Confirmed COVID-19. The guidance provides that critical infrastructure workers may be allowed to continue working following a potential exposure to COVID-19 in order to ensure the continuity of essential operations under certain circumstances.
Many employers have been referring to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) Interim Guidance on “Discontinuation of Isolation for Persons with COVID-19 Not in Healthcare Settings” in order to help determine when it is appropriate to allow employees to return to work from home isolation due to having COVID-19 symptoms or being diagnosed with COVID-19, in the absence of the individual receiving a direct release from his or her healthcare provider or other public health authorities. The CDC has now updated that guidance to provide additional recommendations regarding when asymptomatic individuals with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 (i.e., those who have COVID-19 but do not exhibit symptoms such as fever, coughing, or difficulty breathing) may discontinue isolation.
Following up on its recent temporary enforcement guidance permitting suspension of N95 annual fit-testing for healthcare employers, on April 3, 2020, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued an interim Enforcement Guidance for Respiratory Protection and the N95 Shortage Due to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic.
On March 27, 2020, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) conducted a webinar to address emerging questions regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and the EEOC’s previously updated pandemic guidance. The EEOC has not yet published revised guidance or a questions-and-answers document, but it offered listeners useful information during its webinar. Ogletree Deakins’ attorneys who were in attendance on the webinar prepared the following takeaways based on notes from the presentation to help employers in this evolving area.