Tag Archive for: reasonable accommodation

Seventh Circuit Affirms Employer’s Right To Provide Workers Comp Light Duty But Refuse To Provide Light Duty To Pregnant Workers

In EEOC v. Wal-Mart Stores East, L.P., the Seventh Circuit held that an employer need not offer light duty to pregnant workers, even though it offers the same to employees who are on workers compensation, so long as the company does not also offer light duty to those who are ill or injured off-the-job. In so doing, the Seventh Circuit looked to the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Young v. UPS, that held, without further explanation, that pregnant workers must be offered light duty if it is offered to other employees with similar restrictions. The Seventh Circuit distinguished a 2016 Second Circuit case, Legg v. Ulster County, that had required light duty for pregnant workers even though it was otherwise reserved for workers comp cases, because, there, the Seventh Circuit held the employer had offered “confused and inconsistent rationales” for its decision to reserve light duty for workers comp cases. The Seventh Circuit didn’t explain why that employer’s rationales were “confused and inconsistent,” whereas, this employer’s were clear and persuasive, except to note that this employer explained that reserving light duty for workers compensation cases helped it to reduce “costs” and “legal exposure,” given the state of Wisconsin’s statutory schemes governing workers compensation claims and the incentives provided therein for light duty.

White House announces extension of deadline for government contractors to implement vaccine mandate

When it announced the release of OSHA’s ETS implementing the President’s vaccine mandate for employers of 100 or more, the White House announced the deadline for government contractors to mandate that employees would need to be vaccinated would be extended from December 8, 2021 to January 18, 2022. Note: That will the deadline for employees to be “fully vaccinated,” meaning the deadline to actually receive their full-final vaccine injection will be 14 days earlier January 4, 2022.

Because the extension of this deadline was implemented by way of an announcement from the White House, not through OSHA’s ETS itself, the Fifth Circuit’s freezing of the ETS would not seem to affect this extension.

However, it is noted that the Federal Safer Work Place Task Force has yet to update its own documentation to reflect this new extension, and it was announced only in that relatively informal announcement from the White House; therefore, it is arguably possible that the White House may, especially after the ETS was frozen, wish to pull back on this delay. Employers should stay tuned to developments at the federal level.

Fifth Circuit freezes new OSHA vaccine rule

Within 24 hours after OSHA issued its new ETS implementing President Biden’s vaccine mandate for employers of 100 or more, one federal court — the Fifth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals — has already frozen its implementation. Without further explanation, the Fifth Circuit noted that the ETS raises “grave statutory and constitutional issues.” President Biden’s other vaccine mandates including the government-contractor mandate are not affected by this ruling.

OSHA’s vaccine mandate rules

On 11/5/2021, OSHA issued its ETS (Emergency Temporary Standard) implementing President Biden’s vaccine mandate for employers of 100 or more. (OSHA published a separate ETS for healthcare settings, not addressed in this alert.)

OSHA’s information page regarding the new ETS is here. It includes a 28-minute webinar by OSHA, a FAQ sheet by OSHA, a fact sheet by OSHA, a general summary by OSHA, as well as a summary by OSHA of the reporting requirements.

Effective Date, Compliance Dates, Litigation

The ETS was effective as a statement of federal law immediately on its publication 11/5/2021. General compliance is required by 12/5/2021, to include the policy requirements, mask mandate, recordkeeping and reporting. The sole exception is that mandating vaccines/tests in lieu of vaccination will be required no later than 1/4/2022. Someone who receives their full-final injection on or after 12/21/2021 will not have to be tested in the 2 weeks thereafter as they wait to become fully vaccinated.

OSHA expects the ETS will remain in effect for 6 months after 11/5/2021, though OSHA cautions it may shorten or extend the ETS’ duration.

Because the ETS’ effective date as law was immediate on its publication 11/5/2021, litigation over it commenced almost immediately that same day. At the time of this posting, more than half of the states have filed a variety of lawsuits seeking to invalidate the ETS. Unless a court rules otherwise, though, employers should continue to work towards compliance.

Coverage

When considering coverage, the ETS reaches only some employers, and at those employers, only some employees.

Covered Employers

Employers of 100 or more “at any time the (ETS) standard is in effect” are covered by this ETS. The 100 is counted company-wide, not by location. When counting the 100, all employees are covered, whether full-time or part-time. Employees are counted by the head not FTE; in other words, two part-time employees each working half-time (20 hours per week) do not count as 1 even though together they constitute 1 FTE, rather they count as 2. True independent contractors do not count towards the 100, unless the company is a joint employer. In its preface to the ETS, OSHA offers the following examples (quoting list by OSHA):

  • If an employer has 75 part-time employees and 25 full-time employees, the employer would be within the scope of this ETS because it has 100 employees.
  • If an employer has 150 employees, 100 of whom work from their homes full-time and 50 of whom work in the office at least part of the time, the employer would be within the scope of this ETS because it has more than 100 employees.
  • If an employer has 102 employees and only 3 ever report to an office location, that employer would be covered.
  • If an employer has 150 employees, and 100 of them perform maintenance work in customers’ homes, primarily working from their company vehicles (i.e., mobile workplaces), and rarely or never report to the main office, that employer would also fall within the scope.
  • If an employer has 200 employees, all of whom are vaccinated, that employer would be covered.
  • If an employer has 125 employees, and 115 of them work exclusively outdoors, that employer would be covered.
  • If a single corporation has 50 small locations (e.g., kiosks, concession stands) with at least 100 total employees in its combined locations, that employer would be covered even if some of the locations have no more than one or two employees assigned to work there.
  • If a host employer has 80 permanent employees and 30 temporary employees supplied by a staffing agency, the host employer would not count the staffing  agency employees for coverage purposes and therefore would not be covered. (So long as the staffing agency has at least 100 employees, however, the staffing agency would be responsible for ensuring compliance with the ETS for the jointly employed workers.)
  • If a host employer has 110 permanent employees and 10 temporary employees from a small staffing agency (with fewer than 100 employees of its own), the host employer is covered under this ETS and the staffing agency is not.
  • If a host employer has 110 permanent employees and 10 employees from a large staffing agency (with more than 100 employees of its own), both the host employer and the staffing agency are covered under this standard, and traditional joint employer principles apply.
  • Generally, in a traditional franchisor-franchisee relationship, if the franchisor has more than 100 employees but each individual franchisee has fewer than 100 employees, the franchisor would be covered by this ETS but the individual franchises would not be covered.

Covered Employees

All employees of a covered employer are covered by the ETS, except:

  • Employees working in workplaces covered by President Biden’s Government Contractor mandate. Such employees will be protected exclusively by the Government Contractor mandate.
  • Employees working in healthcare settings covered by OSHA’s Healthcare ETS.
  • Employees who do not report to a workplace where others are present.
  • Employees who work from home while they are working from home. However, if the employee “switches back and forth” working between home and in a workplace where others are present, then the employee becomes covered by the ETS while in the workplace. For example, that individual would have to comply with the following vaccination/testing/mask requirements while in the workplace.
  • Employees who work “exclusively” outdoors. However, if an individual spends more than “de minimis” time with others while not outdoors for work, then the ETS would apply. OSHA gives as examples of covered workers outdoor-workers individuals who carpool at the beginning and end of the shift, who share a vehicle while at work, who spend time in a jobsite trailer while at work. OSHA says “de minimis” time in a shared space with appropriate protects does not render the outdoor-worker covered, and gives as an example a worker who uses a properly ventillated multi-stall bathroom.

Requirements

Once a company is a covered employer with a covered employee, the requirements are manifold, including the following:

  • The company must issue a written policy(-ies) that
    • Either,
      • mandates vaccination for all current and new employees, permitting only the following exemptions:
        • Individuals for whom vaccination is medically contraindicated,
        • Individuals for whom it is medically necessary to delay vaccination,
        • Individuals who qualify for religious or disability accommodations.
        • And for each such individual, the company must require by written policy that they submit instead to weekly testing in lieu of vaccination.
        • And, mandates the wearing of masks in the workplace by unvaccinated individuals, whether or not exempted from the vaccine requirement. In other words, even when exempt from the vaccine mandate by reason of a federal required accommodation or one of the other permitted exemptions above, that exempt individual is only exempt from vaccination. They must undergo weekly testing instead. Also they must wear masks in the workplace even if unvaccinated individuals need not.
      • Or permits vaccination as above so that the worker need not wear a mask, but allows employees who choose not to be vaccinated to undergo weekly tests and wear masks instead without having to be vaccinated. Again though an individual who is permitted not to be vaccinated must not only be tested but also wear a mask even when vaccinated individuals are not required to be masked.
      • Employers may choose either approach.
    • Mandates compliance with other CDC workplace requirements, particularly regarding social distancing.
    • Mandates disclosure to the company of each individual’s vaccination status. The ETS specifies what documentation is sufficient to include the standard vaccine card that we have become familiar with, but it generally does not include, except in limited circumstances, self-attestation. Proof of so-called “natural immunity,” in other words documentation of a prior infection that produced antibodies, is not sufficient.
      • Employers who have already obtained and retained proof of vaccination status may be exempt under certain conditions specified in the ETS, from having to re-request vaccination status.
    • Provides paid time off (or sick leave) to be vaccinated then to recover.
    • Requires individuals to promptly notify the company of a positive test.
    • Informs individuals of certain facts regarding COVID-19 and vaccines.
    • Warns violations will result in discipline up to and including discharge.
  • The company must generate a roster of employees reflecting vaccination status.
  • The company must remove individuals from the workplace when they contract/test positive for COVID-19.
  • The company must meet certain recordkeeping requirements.
    • This includes keeping all vaccination and testing records as confidential medical records.
  • The company must meet certain reporting requirements arising out of workplace-related COVID-19 exposures.

As noted above, the testing mandate is delayed until 1/4/2022, companies will need to comply with the other requirements by 12/5/2021, including by adopting the required policy(-ies), requiring masks, generating the required roster, removing infected individuals for the required periods, and complying with the recordkeeping and reporting requirements.

Sample Policies

OSHA has provided a sample policy mandating vaccination and a sample policy mandating masks and testing in lieu of vaccines.

Either-Or

As noted, employers have a general requirement to implement a policy that mandates vaccination. However, employers may opt instead for a policy that mandates vaccination but permits instead testing/masks/etc. in lieu of vaccination. That decision is left to the company’s discretion, and a company can choose one approach or the other, or the company can choose one approach for one workplace, one group of workers in that workplace, one group of workers in one portion of the workplace, etc. In other words a company has the right to adopt the vaccine-mandate approach for all its workers as OSHA urges, or to mix-and-match as the company determines. Again though, in all situations where a person is not required to be vaccinated, they must be required to wear a mask, test weekly, etc.

OSHA recognizes there may be employers who develop and implement partial mandatory vaccination policies, i.e., that apply to only a portion of their workforce. An example might be a retail corporation employer who has a mixture of staff working at the corporate headquarters, performing intermittent telework from home, and working in stores serving customers. In this type of situation, the employer may choose to require vaccination of only some subset of its employees (e.g., those working in stores), and to treat vaccination as optional for others (e.g., those who work from headquarters or who perform intermittent telework). This approach would comply with the standard so long as the employer complies in full with paragraph (d)(1) and (d)(2) for the respective groups.

Testing

Employees who are allowed not to be vaccinated must undergo weekly testing. This is true whether they are allowed not to be vaccinated due to a religious accommodation, disability accommodation, or as part of the employer’s decision to permit testing in lieu of vaccination. Such individuals must provide the documentation of each negative test within 7 days. The type of testing is specified. No test will be sufficient if it is both self-administered and self-read.

Employees may be required to locate their own tests, have their own tests administered, on their own time and at their own cost. OSHA acknowledges this will be a significant burden but expressly states that it crafted the rule to incentivize workers not to elect testing in lieu of vaccination.

As mentioned above, requiring employers to pay for workplace protections makes it more likely that employees will take advantage of that protection, and in this ETS, OSHA intends to strongly encourage employees to choose vaccination, not regular COVID-19 testing. Because employees who choose to remain unvaccinated will generally be required to pay for their own COVID-19 testing, this standard creates a financial incentive for those employees to become fully vaccinated and avoid that cost.

Tests that show the person has so-called “natural immunity,” in other words, tests that for example confirm an unvaccinated person has antibodies from prior infection are not sufficient to meet the requirement for weekly testing, nor do they exempt the person from the need for vaccination.

Some exceptions exist. For example a worker who has tested positive for COVID-19 cannot be required to provide such weekly tests thereafter for 90 days.

OSHA reminds employers that other laws may apply, so that when an employer who chooses for example to permit the worker to undergo testing during work hours or in the workplace (or even to be vaccinated during work hours or in the workplace), then that employer may have subjected itself to a requirement under wage-hour laws, such as FLSA, to pay for such time.

Masks

The kind of mask, face covering, etc., that is permitted is specifically laid out by OSHA in its ETS. It does not include the more informal kinds of coverings we’ve become used to seeing such as neck buffs. It also does not include an otherwise acceptable mask when worn with the nose or mouth exposed. Employers must ensure that workers who are required to wear masks actually wear them such that they cover the person’s nose and mouth.

Employers need not provide masks to unvaccinated individuals. Employers need not pay for masks. Employers need not form-fit masks.

Unvaccinated individuals need not wear a face covering for the limited time it takes to eat or drink or while alone in a room with proper physical protections, such as closed door, ventilation, etc.

Employees may choose to wear more protective types of masks, such as respirators, if they choose; likewise, fully vaccinated individuals must be allowed to wear masks and face coverings if they would like, even though their vaccination status relieves them of the need to do so.

Paid Time-Off (PTO) or Sick Leave

A reasonable amount of paid time-off (PTO) or sick leave must be provided to be vaccinated and to recover.

To be vaccinated, the time off cannot be substituted with other paid time-off (PTO, vacation or sick leave that the employee might have. It must be fresh paid time off on top of whatever other time off the employee might have accrued. However, it can be capped at 4 hours, even if in a given location it will take the worker longer.

Paid time off to recover after the vaccine can be provided in the form of already-accrued PTO/vacation/sick leave, unless the individual has no such time available, in which case, even if the individual had such a policy available to them but has just used it all, additional fresh time must be provided for recovery. The ETS does not have a formal cap for recovery time, but in its preface, OSHA says it presumes no more than 2 days is reasonable.

Employers need not pay employees who have already been vaccinated for such times. The paid time off provisions are not retroactive.

Employers need not pay other costs related to vaccination, even travel costs for employees in remote locations.

Removal from the Workplace Following Positive Test

As noted, the company’s policy must require workers to promptly report a positive COVID-19 test. This is true whether the test was conducted as part of the weekly test-in-lieu-of-vaccine requirement or otherwise. For example, a non-symptomatic worker who experiences a positive test as part of their personal travel plans (who has to be tested for example prior to boarding a flight to a foreign country for vacation) would have to report the positive.

Any individual who has COVID-19, including as confirmed by a positive test, must be removed from the workplace. Under certain conditions they might be allowed to work not around anyone else, such as from home.

Employees may not be allowed to return to work until:

  • A negative nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT) that follows a positive antigen test.
  • The employee completes then-current CDC guidelines for isolation, which at this time are:
    • If the employee has no symptoms, 10 days following their positive test,
    • Or, if the employee has had symptoms, the later of 10 days following the onset of symptoms, 24 hours without a fever (unmedicated) and improving other symptoms (not necessarily including loss of taste or smell, which can last much longer),
    • Or, if the employee is released to return to work by a licensed healthcare provider.

Employers are not required — unless otherwise required — to pay for time away from work, though employees may of course use such time as they may have, including PTO/vacation/sick leave. OSHA notes that nothing in the ETS prohibits employees from claiming such time under workers comp laws if the employee can otherwise establish an entitlement to a work-related exposure workers comp claim.

Preemption of State and Local Laws, State OSHA Plans

This ETS is implemented as a law with what is called field preemption. Therefore, it preempts all less-strict or contrary state and local laws. It specifically preempts therefore state laws that conflict with the Biden vaccine mandates, prohibit vaccine passports in the workplace, and prohibit vaccination inquiries in the workplace. OSHA expressly notes this its ETS invalidates laws in at least Arkansa, Arizona, Florida, Montana, and Texas.

States that have their own state OSHA plans and their own state OSHA-type agencies are now required to develop and implement their own variations of the ETS, which must be no less protectful than OSHA’s. State plans must be approved by OSHA itself.

Production of Required Records

Employers must be prepared to produce its policies and roster within 4 hours of request by OSHA, and within end of next business day of a request by an employee or their representative (generally, their union). That roster should reflect employees broken down by their workplaces. Upon request by the Secretary of Labor, all other documents related to this ETS must be provided no later than end of next business day.

Cost of Compliance?

In perhaps the greatest understatement of all time, OSHA anticipates the cost of complying with its ETS, per covered employer, on average across all industries, will be $11,298, for a total nationwide cost of $2,981,347,368. In other words, even at an inconceivable unrealistic low of $11,298 per company, OSHA concedes its ETS is likely to cost $2.9-billion.

Those numbers do not include costs incurred by employees, for example, for testing in lieu of vaccination, which may cost on average $100 per test and as noted above are required weekly for such individuals. In other words, an individual who seeks an exemption from the vaccine mandate due to religious reasons may be coming out of their own pocket to pay more than $2,500 for testing over the course of the ETS’ expected 6-month lifespan, with additional expenditures to ensure they are always wearing a clean and compliant mask while at work.  As noted above, though, OSHA has explicitly said its choice was entirely to disincentivize employees from availing themselves of any option other than vaccination.

Work From Home After The Pandemic?

In an interesting aside, in its preface to the ETS, OSHA reviews recent surveys trying to predict how common work-from-home is likely to be after the pandemic. OSHA looks in particular at one report predicting that, after the pandemic, 22% of full work days post-pandemic will be worked from home, up from 5% pre-pandemic.

States start suing federal government over President Biden’s vaccine mandates

As expected, states have not only begun passing new laws as well as their own executive orders to oppose President Biden’s vaccine mandates but are now suing the federal government. The following ten states just filed one lawsuit in Missouri: Arkansas, Alaska, Missouri, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. Seven states filed a separate lawsuit in Georgia: Georgia, Alabama, Idaho, Kansas, South Carolina, Utah and West Virginia. And Texas filed its own lawsuit in Texas, as Florida has in Florida.

So far the lawsuits focus on the President’s mandate for government contractors, which the White House perhaps not coincidentally simultaneously has begun to potentially soften.

The OSHA rule to implement the President’s mandate for employers of 100 or more  was expected to be issued as early as this week; however, it is now being widely reported that business groups are asking the White House to consider holding off until after the holidays as implementation during the holidays is, they contend, not feasible.

Employers are reminded that President Biden’s mandates remain Executive Orders (unless frozen or otherwise impacted by one of these lawsuits).

White House walks back a few possible steps from its government-contractor mandate

In one of his recent vaccine mandates, President Biden ordered all government contractors to have their personnel vaccinated by December 8, 2021, with permission arguably given later for exemptions for religious and disability accommodations. The federal government’s Safer Federal Workforce Task Force issued guidance affirming and fleshing out the mandate for government contractors. The mandate has by now been formally implemented into many government contracts pursuant to FAR 52.223-99, DFARS 252.223-7999, etc.

On October 27, 2021, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinaor Jeff Zients is widely reported as having walked back the mandate at least to some extent by saying December 8 was not a strict deadline — or in his reported words, not a “cliff” — and that the Whie House would permit some “flexibility.”

The Safer Federal Workforce Task Force then issued FAQs on its webpage that bring the December 8 deadline into question. To be sure, the FAQs warn, December 8 remains the deadline set in the President’s Executive Order, and a company’s failure to ensure that its covered workers be vaccinated or exempt due to a religious or disability accommodation remains grounds for contract termination, debarment, etc. However, the FAQs — although not its prior guidance — now suggest that:

  • An employee whose request for religious accommodation or disability accommodation may be able to be kept employed by the contractor while that request is being processed,
  • And, an employee who has not requested a religious or disability accommodation or who has been denied one may also be able to be employed for at least some limited period of time while a stepped process is employed attempting to start with counseling and education for the employee about vaccination.
  • Both employees would, at all times, be have to comply with masking and social distancing requirements, even if fully vaccinated individuals are exempt from such requirements due to the protection offered by the vaccine.
  • Additionally the FAQs note particular government agencies may impose heighted requirements above and beyond those otherwise applicable in government buildings and under applicable state and local requirements.

How will that actually work? The White House and Task Force offer no specifics. Hopefully, they will provide some sort of detailed step-by-step process employers can follow to comply with this increasingly unclear mandate. Until then, government contractors are reminded that, despite these new softer words from the White House and Task Force, the President’s Executive Order remains the law. Employers who fail to meet the December 8 deadline risk severe penalties including contract termination and future debarment.

Texas joins Montana in conflict against Biden vaccine mandates

By Executive Order of its Governor, Texas has joined Montana in an on-going conflict against the recent vaccine mandates announced by President Biden. But how direct are these conflicts? While certainly direct enough to ensure significant litigation in both states, there appears to be some room for some form of compliance with the Biden mandates, especially in Texas. Hopefully litigation will strike the state bans (or clearly rule, in reverse, that they somehow supersede the Biden mandates), so that employers (and employees) have clarity as to vaccine-related rights and obligations in these states; however, until and unless that occurs, these state laws are likely to create significant confusion as each law leaves significant room for partial compliance with the federal mandates.

The Texas Governor’s Executive Order is likely to be followed by a new statute from its legislature. Indeed, the Governor has already added it to the legislature’s agenda in an upcoming special session. Until then, it provides, as follows:

No entity in Texas can compel receipt of a COVID-19 vaccine by any individual, including an employee or a consumer, who objects to such vaccination for any reason of personal conscience, based on a religious belief, or for medical reasons, including prior recovery from COVID-19.

Thus, unless modified by the legislature in its upcoming special session, it appears that while Texas’ new law does apply to private employers, it does not prohibit them from complying with the Biden mandates. Rather, it expands an employee’s ability to demand exemption from a mandate. It is anticipated that all of the Biden mandates will likely permit reasonable accommodations, including exemptions, on the basis of religion and disability. This new Texas law appears to simply add/expand exemptions in Texas on the basis of “personal conscience” or “medical reasons, including prior recovery from COVID-19.” It is not clear how these compare to religion or disability. Is “personal conscience” broader than the already broad definition of “religion”? Are “medical reasons, including prior recovery from COVID-19” broader than “disability”?

The Montana ban flows from its legislature’s new law, House Bill 702. The Montana law adds “vaccination status” and a “vaccine passport” to its state’s EEO law’s definition of protected classes (along with race, etc.). It defines the phrase “vaccine passport” to include as an example a vaccine card. How does the Montana law square up to the Biden mandates? In its FAQ dated 9/29/2021, Montana dodges the question saying that, until the new OSHA rule comes out, its law is “in effect,” without explaining what that means.

The Montana law is already subject to multiple lawsuits seeking to strike it down. The Texas bill is sure to be challenged shortly in the courts.

Hopefully employers will soon obtain clarity from courts in these states. Until then, employers in both states (and any other state that joins this pool of confusion) should realize that neither Texas nor Montana’s state law flatly prohibits compliance with the Biden mandates. They may simply limit how or to what extent compliance is possible. Still both are clearly in direct enough conflict with the Biden mandates, it is likely courts will have to clarify these issues.

Biden vaccine mandates: What private employers know so far

On 9-9-2021, President Biden announced sweeping vaccine mandates that will affect private employers.

So far, what do private employers know to expect?

  • Employers of 100 or more workers will be required to implement vaccine-or-test mandates. Employees who opt not to be vaccinated will be required to be tested weekly. Employees will need to be provided paid time-off to be vaccinated. Fines could be $14,000 per violation.
    • OSHA has been tasked with implementing guidance explaining this new mandate.
  • Government contractors will be required to implement vaccine mandates for their workers. It appears that this government contractor obligation will not allow a test-out option. It appears that this will apply only to contracts entered into after October 15, 2021. It is noted that this “appears” to be the case, because the Biden administration and its Executive Order on this mandate so specify; however, government contractors should review their current contracts to confirm that they do not already require compliance with future FAR (Federal Acquisition Regulations) that may be adopted during the current contract’s term.
    • It is also noted that the Executive Order does not actually apply to “government contractors.” “Government contractors” is not a phrase defined in law. Rather the Executive Order reaches all federal “contract or contract-like instruments.” It defines that term, as follows:

For purposes of this order, the term “contract or contract-like instrument” shall have the meaning set forth in the Department of Labor’s proposed rule, “Increasing the Minimum Wage for Federal Contractors, ” 86 Fed. Reg. 38816, 38887 (July 22, 2021).  If the Department of Labor issues a final rule relating to that proposed rule, that term shall have the meaning set forth in that final rule.

    • It is noted that the definition of “contract or contract-like instruments” at 86 Fed.Reg. 38816 is very specific and involved. It does not include all forms of government contracts, but it does include some forms of government relationships one might not consider to be government contracts. In other words, that phrase is a technical legally defined phrase, it is not coextensive with the lay term “government contracts.” Some companies that one might think are “government contractors” will not be covered, and some one might think are not “government contractors” will be covered. It will be a technical issue for review against that very specific regulatory definition.
    • Government contractors are encouraged to provide their current and anticipated government contracts to their attorneys for legal review against 86 Fed.Reg. 38816
    • The Executive Order mandates the federal government to issue further guidance on this government-contractor mandate no later than 9-24-2021, with additional deadlines thereafter through 10-8-2021 for further guidance.
  • Medicare and Medicaid providers as well as some other health-care settings such as some nusing homes will be required to impose some form of mandate.

What don’t we know?

We still know virtually nothing about the specifics of how these mandates will actually work. Hopefully we will be receiving guidance from the various government agencies soon. Questions we still do not know include:

  • How workers will need to be counted for the 100-employee mandate.
  • What government contractors will be subject to the government-contractor mandate (see above re “contract or contract-like instruments” and re new-versus-existing contracts).
  • Whether any or all of these mandates will permit opt-outs or other forms of accommodation for disability or religious reasons. The White House announced that federal workers will have accommodation opportunities, but it is not clear to what extent these new mandates will permit accommodations for private employees.
  • When OSHA will implement the required guidance, though it has been mandated do so within the coming weeks. Whether it will do so by way of a standard or informal guidance. Whether it will issue a proposed then final draft according to normal rulemaking processes, or if, as it appears from the way President Biden described it, OSHA will skip the proposed draft stage and simply issue a final version all at once as an emergency rulemaking.
  • Whether paid time-off to be vaccinated will be required only under the 100-employee mandate, or if it will also be required for government contractors and Medicare/Medicaid employers. Whether paid time-off will be required for testing for those who are allowed to opt-out of vaccination. Whether there will be a pass-through permitted to allow the costs of that paid time-off to be credited against federal taxes for example.
  • What the compliance burden and related costs (including the costs of testing and possibly vaccination) will be. At least some of these expenses will be borne by the federal government, as it has been announced the government will spend $2-billion to acquire new tests.
  • What documentation, recordkeeping, examination/inquiry restrictions and other processes will be required for these various mandates.
  • What end-date these mandates will have, in other words, when they will expire.

What have been reactions so far?

Reactions by the business community continue to be mixed. Many companies have already adopted vaccine mandates, with vax-or-test programs probably being among the most common. For such companies these mandates may provide some clarity as to how companies can best implement such mandates. However, many companies, especially in traditionally red-political communities, face strong pushback from their workers, customers, etc., and have been reluctant to do so.

Is litigation likely?

Litigation is expected to challenge all aspects of the new mandates. It is probable that at least some cases will produce rulings before these new mandates start taking effect. Having said that, employers can expect it to come down to the very wire. Therefore, companies should not simply take a wait-and-see approach. Companies will need to start assessing as soon as possible their obligations, if any, and how they will implement these new mandates. Unfortunately, as noted, companies are having to wait at least for now for further guidance from the various government agencies involved.

 

Vaccine lawsuits rising

Missed my recent webinar on vaccines in the workplace? Email me or send me a message through this website if interested in the complimentary on-demand presentation. In the meantime, check out this article on Law 360 (no subscription required). Interesting topics include a look at some of these new lawsuits, the need to provide certain accommodations, the importance of considering state laws, and the confusion caused by current vaccines EUA status.

Tenth Circuit holds employer need not, under ADA, accommodate challenges that an employee’s disability imposes “outside the workplace unrelated to an essential function or a privilege of employment”

The Tenth Circuit recently decided a case involving an employee who required a flexible work schedule to do her job. She suffered from a disability related to her vision. She lived 60 miles from the workplace and relied on family and friends for rides to and from work. Her ability to make it to work on time proved a challenge. The company attempted to allow her to work a flexible work schedule, but that also proved unsuccessful, when her actual schedule became “erratic,” which “contributed to low patient satisfaction scores,” “less than stellar” performance evaluations. She sked the company to continue allowing her the flexible work schedule or even to work remotely full time. The company declined.

The Tenth Circuit held that her request to work remotely or on a flexible work schedule would, if granted, have accommodated “her transportation barrier (which was) a problem she faces outside the workplace unrelated to an essential job function or a privileged of employment.” The company could not control where she lived or when she was able to find rides with friends or family. She was in that sense like all employees, whether disabled or not, and nothing in the ADA imposes on an employer the obligation to grant accommodations that solve workers’ personal off-duty challenges. “(E)mployers have no obligation under the ADA to accommodate disabled employees for problems they face outside the workplace unrelated to the essential job functions of their positions or privileges of employment merely because they are disabled.”

Together with another recent Tenth Circuit case, the decision suggests how the courts may approach litigation that may arise as a result of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the workplace.

Source: Unrein v. PHC-Fort Morgan, Inc., — F.3d — (10th Cir. 4/8/2021).

Tenth Circuit previews likely ruling when employers require return-to-work following pandemic

A recent Tenth Circuit decision previews courts’ likely analysis when employers begin requiring workers to return to the workplace following the eventual end of the pandemic. In the case, the Court held that making a “transitional duty” permanent is not a reasonable accommodation — in other words is not required by the ADA — especially where it would eliminate an essential function of the worker’s position.

The Court used the phrase “transitional duty” to refer to the employer-prison’s temporary assignment of a disabled worker to relatively light duty that consisted of “sedentary” tasks in the “control room.” The prison provided the transitional duty only as a temporary accommodation of his arthritis pending hip surgery after which he was expected to return to his regular duties as a correctional officer. It was undisputed that the regular duties of a correctional officer included the ability to defend oneself, which he could not do absent successful recovery from surgery. When the temporary transitional duty ended and he was still unable to work as a correctional officer, his employment was terminated. He sued claiming that the ADA required the prison to convert the transitional duty into his permanent assignment. The prison responded and the Tenth Circuit agreed that making his temporary accommodation permanent would not have been a reasonable accommodation, in other words, was not required under the ADA. His job was to work as a correctional officer; the transitional duty was merely a temporary effort to respond to his arthritis and need for surgery.

Just as having permitted that correctional officer to work in the control room was merely a temporary response to the circumstances at the time, one that the ADA did not require to be made permanent, so, now in the context of the pandemic, allowing employees to work remotely, temporarily during the pandemic, does not open the door to ADA lawsuits claiming to make remote-work permanent, at least where attendance is itself an essential function of the job. Readers are reminded that the EEOC similarly recently opined that temporarily eliminating an essential function, in response to specific circumstances such as the pandemic, does not require that elimination to be made permanent under the ADA (or Title VII).

Source: Mannan v. Colorado, 2020 BL 493234, 2020 Us App Lexis 39822 (10th Cir. 12/18/20).

EEOC issues guidance on vaccines

The EEOC issued guidance on vaccines, as subpart K of its Technical Assistance (FAQ) regarding coronavirus. The EEOC’s FAQ is not regulatory, it does not carry the weight of law, and it did not reach any specific conclusions. Rather, it included the EEOC’s current thinking that:

  • It may become possible, as vaccines begin to be available, for an employer to mandate vaccination as a condition of entry into the workplace if the company can establish business necessity and that failure to impose the requirement would pose a direct threat of harm to others or that employee’s own health.
  • The EEOC noted it may or may not also be possible for an employer to mandate vaccination as a condition of employment. In other words, the EEOC said that, while some employers may be able to require vaccination as a condition of physically entering the workplace, to terminate an un-vaccinated employee would require a higher showing to prove business necessity and direct threat. For example, such an employer would have to prove the inability to allow the worker to take leave, to work remotely, etc.
  • In both instances, an employer would have to provide a reasonable accommodation for an employee who declines vaccination
    • Regarding a disability, under the ADA, unless the employer can prove undue hardship, i.e., that “there is no way” to allow the worker into the workplace or just to keep their job without the vaccine, to take leave, if not even to work remotely, and/or
    • Regarding a sincerely held religious belief, under Title VII, unless it would impose more than a de minimis cost or burden to the company to provide such an accommodation.

The EEOC recommends that employers consider, in all circumstances, using a third-party medical contractor that expertly advise workers, obtain informed consent, and manage any questions as well as the administration of the vaccine, and the exchange of any information regarding genetics, within medical confidentiality, such that the worker would, once vaccinate, simply provide the company with documentation of having been vaccinated, ensuring no confidential information is shared with the company.

Employers should first be aware that the EEOC does not have jurisdiction over and did not opine on other federal or state laws, which may well be thornier restrictions for employers who feel required vaccines are needed in their workplaces. Further, multiple states have already begun the process of debating whether to legislate or simply regulate in this area.

Finally, it should be noted that the EEOC was discussing vaccines that have been “approved or authorized” by the FDA. Currently no vaccines have been “approved” by the FDA, some have received an emergency use “authorization.” The EEOC did not discuss the fact that, in the fact sheet supporting the current authorizations, the FDA specifically stated: “It is your choice to receive or not receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine.” While that statement seems to be limited to a patient’s choice in terms of their own medical care — not their employment rights — that statement’s importance has not yet been analyzed by the EEOC (or the courts).

EEOC updates Q&A, specifically re employees with an underlying disability that puts them at “higher risk” re coronavirus

The EEOC updated its prior Q&A re coronavirus, adding three questions (numbered G3-G5) to address the needs of employees who already suffer from an underlying disability that, now, puts them at “higher risk” related to coronavirus.

First in questions G3-G4, the EEOC advises that an employer is obligated to consider whether a reasonable accommodation exists to permit such an individual to return to work once a request is made. Until a request is made, the employer has no obligation to consider the possibility of a reasonable accommodation. The EEOC explains too that the request need not be made formally — it may be made “in conversation or in writing” — and it need not be made by the employee themselves — it may be made by the employee “or a third party, such as an employee’s doctor.” Indeed the request need not even be a request, it is enough if the employee “let(s) the employer know that she needs a change for a reason related to” an underlying disability.

Question G4 confirms that an employer need not consider a reasonable accommodation even when the company knows the worker has an underlying disability that might put them at a “higher risk” related to coronavirus, until such a request is made. However where the employer is itself concerned that the employee’s disability might put them at a “higher risk” related to coronavirus, the employer cannot on its own initiative “exclude” the worker from work unless it can prove a “direct threat” to the worker’s own health (or the health of others) and, further, that the “direct threat” cannot be removed by reasonable accommodation, such as allowing “telework, leave, or reassignment” if reasonable. The EEOC discusses the possibility of showing such a “direct threat,” noting it “is a high standard,” with proof that “if, after going through all these steps (of considering the relevant risk, the possibility of reasonable accommodation, etc.), the facts support the conclusion that the employee poses a significant risk of substantial harm to himself that cannot be reduced or eliminated by reasonable accommodation.”

Question G5 discusses possible accommodations that should be considered by an employer and worker in trying to determine if a reasonable accommodation might exist to permit a worker with an underlying disability to work despite a “higher risk” related to coronavirus (emphasis added).

Accommodations may include additional or enhanced protective gowns, masks, gloves, or other gear beyond what the employer may generally provide to employees returning to its workplace.  Accommodations also may include additional or enhanced protective measures, for example, erecting a barrier that provides separation between an employee with a disability and coworkers/the public or increasing the space between an employee with a disability and others.  Another possible reasonable accommodation may be elimination or substitution of particular “marginal” functions (less critical or incidental job duties as distinguished from the “essential” functions of a particular position).  In addition, accommodations may include temporary modification of work schedules (if that decreases contact with coworkers and/or the public when on duty or commuting) or moving the location of where one performs work (for example, moving a person to the end of a production line rather than in the middle of it if that provides more social distancing).

These are only a few ideas.  Identifying an effective accommodation depends, among other things, on an employee’s job duties and the design of the workspace.  An employer and employee should discuss possible ideas; the Job Accommodation Network (www.askjan.org) also may be able to assist in helping identify possible accommodations.  As with all discussions of reasonable accommodation during this pandemic, employers and employees are encouraged to be creative and flexible.

Religious accommodation need not preserve overtime opportunities

The Tenth Circuit recently decided a case where the plaintiff’s requested religious accommodation gave him the time he needed off for religious reasons but meant losing overtime. The Court held the employer did not have to allow him to work more later in the week to make up for the lost overtime.

The worker had asked for Saturdays off as a religious accommodation. The employer agreed. However, because Saturdays were the day of the week when the worker (and the other workers apparently) worked overtime, it left him with no overtime opportunity. Wanting to keep his Saturdays off, he asked to be allowed to make up the lost hours by working overtime on Sundays. The employer refused.

The Tenth Circuit recognized that granting the worker his requested accommodation of Saturdays off had cost him his overtime opportunities but held that the company was not required to allow him to work make up hours on Sundays. The Court held that an accommodation is reasonable if it allows the plaintiff “to engage in his religious practice despite the employer’s normal rules to the contrary.” Here letting him take Saturdays off allowed him to engage in his religious practices. The Court rejected the argument that Title VII required the company to then allow him to work make-up overtime on Sundays.

Though (the plaintiff) may have requested an opportunity to make up his overtime hours on Sunday, Title VII did not require (the company) to offer (his) preferred accommodation.

The case illustrates Title VII’s basic principle that a worker may be entitled to a reasonable accommodation of his religious practices, and so long as it is effective at allowing him to engage in his religious beliefs, it need not be his preferred accommodation, even where the difference means lost pay opportunities.

Source: Christmon v. B&B Airparts, Inc., case no. 17-3209 (10th Cir. 5/24/18).

Tenth Circuit restates summary judgment test with extensive discussion of multiple ADA and general employment law doctrines

The Tenth Circuit restated the test for granting summary judgment in favor of employers, and in doing so extensively discussed multiple doctrines frequently raised in such motions, including the honest belief doctrine, the adequacy of an employer’s investigation and the reasonableness of requested accommodations. With the regard to the last doctrine, the court noted that, as a matter of law, when workers advise their employers of a disability and request an accommodation after they have engaged in workplace misconduct, it is not a reasonable accommodation to ask that such misconduct be excused due to their disability. The court cited its 2004 precedent, Davila v. Quest Corp., Inc., for the proposition that “excusing workplace misconduct to provide a fresh start/second chance to an employee whose disability could be offered as an after-the-fact excuse is not a required accommodation under the ADA.” The Court concluded that “a denied request for retroactive leniency cannot support an accommodation claim.”

The case was DeWitt v. Southwestern Bell Telephone Co., 845 F.3d 1299 (10th Cir. 2017).