December 4, 2022 is the deadline for employers 100 or more employees to comply with the new Occupational Safety and Health Administration COVID-19 Vaccination Emergency Temporary Standard Interim Final Rule (“ETS”) implementing the employer vaccine, masking and testing mandates President Biden announced his administration intended to impose in September. The ETS is scheduled for official publication in the Federal Register tomorrow. (November 5, 2021). The ETS establishes workplace vaccination, vaccination verification, face covering and testing requirements to address “the grave danger of COVID-19 in the workplace for employers of 100 or more employees. The request for comments included in the Preamble to the ETS indicates that OSHA also is considering extending the rules to apply to smaller employers. Businesses employing more than 100 employees must prepare to comply by December 4, 2022, except that the compliance deadline for certain testing requirements for nonvaccinated employees is January 4, 2021. As the request for comments indicates OSHA is considering extending the rule to businesses with fewer than 100 employees, businesses also should critically evaluate the impact of the rules on their operations and submit comments during the comment period.
Biden Administration COVID-19 Vaccination Strategy
The ETS implements part of a series of COVID-19 vaccination mandates President Biden announced in September that his administration planned to adopt to substantially increase the number Americans covered by vaccination requirements, including:
- OSHA to issue emergency rules that would require all employers with more than 100 employees to get vaccinated or be tested at least weekly;
- OSHA and other federal regulations to require vaccinations for all federal workers, contractors and subcontractors;
- OSHA and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) rules to require COVID-19 vaccinations for all health care workers at Medicare and Medicaid participating hospitals and other health care settings;
- Using Department of Education and federal funding measures to support vaccination and masking in schools; and
- Calling on large entertainment venues to require proof of vaccination or testing for entry.
Regarding the OSHA mandate, President Biden’s “Path out of the Pandemic COVID-19 Action Plan” states OSHA is developing an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) that will require all employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated or require any workers who remain unvaccinated to produce a negative test result on at least a weekly basis before coming to work.
Along with OSHA’s issuance of the ETS, HHS, OFCCP, the Department of Education also are moving forward to implement the other aspects of the Biden vaccination mandate strategy.
These new mandates are in addition to continuing to encourage employers to use and train workers on using multiple safeguards to avoid And contain the spread of COVID-19 in their workplaces.
Noncompliance with the mandates could put covered employers at significant risk.
Among other things, of course, is the potential OSHA liability. OSHA already has made clear it’s willingness to sanction employers for violating CoVID emergency standards by nailing AMA Health Holdings LLC, for and Lakewood Resource and Referral Center Inc. (“CHEMED”) for failing to comply with COVID-19 safety protocols issued in June.
In June OSHA issued an emergency temporary standard to protect healthcare workers from contracting coronavirus. In March, OSHA launched a national emphasis program focusing enforcement efforts on companies that put the largest number of workers at serious risk of contracting the coronavirus. The program also prioritizes employers who retaliate against workers for complaints about unsafe or unhealthy conditions, or for exercising other rights protected by federal law.
OSHA cited the facility’s operator, AMA Health Holdings LLC, with two citations for failing to develop and implement effective measures to mitigate the spread of the virus and not recording each work-related illness.
The AMA Holdings OSHA action demonstrates OSHA’s commitment to investigate complaints of violations is its COVID emergency standards and fine employers that violate them.
The citations against AMA Health Holdings follow OSHA’s earlier citation of CHEMED for retaliating against employees for questioning the adequacy of COVID safety at the dental practice where they worked.
Government contractor and healthcare employers also could face program exclusions or penalties under other elements of the Biden Administration vaccine strategy.
Additionally, employers should keep in mind that improperly handled employee questions or statements of concern about the adequacy of workplace COVID -19 safeguards could create retaliation or whistleblower risks. The threat for retaliation liability extends well beyond employers actually covered by the impending mandates. Regardless of what the rules actually eventually provide, employees of covered and uncovered employers are likely to have questions about the adequacy of safeguards and their workplace rights. These questions could come from people believing their entitled to work without being vaccinated, employees a certain rate to takeoff time for vaccination or other reasons with or without pay, employees asking or asserting rights to paid time off for vaccination or other reasons or a host of other matters. Retaliation protections can arise even when the employee doesn’t qualify for the rights asserted as long as the employee can demonstrate that the request is based in a good faith belief that the right might exist. Consequently, employers should use care to investigate and respond carefully to these concerns.
The author of this update, employment lawyer Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, will discuss these and other federal COVID-19 vaccination and other workforce requirements as a panelist on the “COVID-19 Vaccination Mandates & Incentives” virtual seminar the American Bar Association Joint Committee on Employee Benefits will host on November 12, 2021 beginning at Noon Central Time.
Ms. Stamer also is finalizing an updated summary of the new ETS, which Solutions Law Press, Inc. has arranged to make available to interested readers. If you or someone you know would like a copy of this resource, email here.
Solutions Law Press, Inc. also invites you to receive future updates by registering here and participating and contributing to the discussions in our Solutions Law Press, Inc. LinkedIn SLP Health Care Risk Management & Operations Group, HR & Benefits Update Compliance Group, and/or Coalition for Responsible Health Care Policy. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating your profile here. For specific information about the these or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.
About the Author
For help developing, administering or defending your organization’s COVID-19 Mandatory Vaccine Policy or other workforce, employee benefits, compensation or compliance practices, contact the author. Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years working as an on demand, special project, consulting, general counsel or other basis with domestic and international business, charitable, community and government organizations of all types, sizes and industries and their leaders on labor and employment and other workforce compliance, performance management, internal controls and governance, compensation and benefits, regulatory compliance, investigations and audits, change management and restructuring, disaster preparedness and response and other operational, risk management and tactical concerns.
For more information about these concerns or Ms. Stamer’s work, experience, involvements, other publications, or programs, see www.cynthiastamer.com, on Facebook, on LinkedIn or Twitter or e-mail here.
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