There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays. For some, holidays with family can be a real grind; for members of Congress, the holidays appear to be a real motivator and catalyst for bipartisanship. Thus, it seems that after all the months of debate, a federal economic relief package may be at hand. Indeed, legislators will be working through the weekend to get the package across the finish line so that they can hightail it out of Washington, D.C., as soon as possible. Of course, any economic stimulus package is supposed to be combined with federal government funding, and at present, neither chamber of Congress has voted on any such legislation (which means that a federal government shutdown is still possible).
We are still awaiting the legislative text of the economic relief legislation, but the broad outline of the package reportedly is as follows:
- Extends Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act unemployment programs through February 2021 or March 2021 (date uncertain), though the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) supplement will likely be lowered to $300 per week
- Provides $600–$700 stimulus checks to individuals and more for families
- Provides around $257 billion for the small business Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)
- Extends Section 3610 of the CARES Act to reimburse federal contractors for paid leave that they provide to certain employees or subcontractors who are unable to work as a result of the COVID-19 crisis and who also cannot telework because their job duties cannot be performed remotely
- Allocates funds to combat the pandemic and distribute vaccines
- Allocates funds for schools and transportation
- No aid for state and local governments
- No liability protections for employers
- No extension or expansion of Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) emergency paid sick and family leave provisions.
EEOC Issues Vaccination Guidance. On December 16, 2020, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission updated its COVID-19 guidance to address employer-provided COVID-19 vaccinations and the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). Specifically, the guidance addresses whether pre-vaccination screening questions constitute a disability-related inquiry under the ADA or otherwise elicit genetic information. The new materials also examine the direct threat and sincerely held religious belief analyses and workplace vaccinations. Michael Oliver Eckard has the details.
OSHA Issues Inspection Directive. On December 16, 2020, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration released its new Site-Specific Targeting program for nonconstruction workplaces with 20 or more employees. The new directive uses a three-year lookback period of injury and illness rates (gleaned from Form 300A data) to select workplaces for inspection. The directive further establishes protocols for “records only” inspections in the event that a worksite was included on the inspection list because of incorrect data submitted by an employer.
DOL Finalizes Fiduciary Rule. On December 15, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Employee Benefits Security Administration issued a final rule entitled “Improving Investment Advice for Workers & Retirees.” The rule allows financial advisors to collect fees when providing retirement savings investment advice. Often referred to as the “fiduciary rule,” the rule reinterprets the 2016 fiduciary regulation that was vacated by a federal court in 2018. As with all recently finalized regulations, expect this fiduciary rule to receive strict scrutiny from both the new Congress and new administration.
Biometric Rule Advances. This week, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services sent to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) its draft regulation that would require foreign nationals to submit biometric data (e.g., eye scans, palm prints, voice prints, etc.) when filing for immigration benefits. Expect a quick review by OIRA in anticipation of finalization soon.
Piano Man. This week, the U.S. Senate approved by unanimous consent S.Res.801, “A resolution authorizing the use of the atrium in the Philip A. Hart Senate Office Building for a piano performance by Senator Lamar Alexander.” Senator Alexander (R-TN), whom as we discussed recently will retire at the end of this Congress, is quite the piano player. (In fact, he was spotted last week playing Christmas music in the Russell Senate Office Building.) During his encore performance this week, Alexander played more Christmas music and even reached across the aisle to play a duet with the harmonica-playing Democratic senator from Virginia, Tim Kaine. But given Congress’s lack of cooperation and productivity of late, perhaps Alexander and Kaine should also have played “Why Can’t We Be Friends?”
This is the Buzz’s final regular edition of 2020. Happy holidays!