Temporary Stay Of OSHA Vaccine ETS Fuels Continued Employer Risk & Uncertainty

November 22, 2021

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (“OSHA”) has suspended implementation and enforcement of COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard(“Rule”) in response to the November 12, 2021 5th Circuit Court of Appeals order staying implementation of the Rule – for now. While the action delays the deadline for covered employers to comply with the Rule, employers still remain exposed to other COVID-related discrimination, retaliation, safety and other claims.

One of a series of new federal rules adopted over the past few months that require businesses employing more than 100 employees, government contractors and subcontractors and health care providers participating in Medicare or Medicaid to implement and enforce COVID-19 vaccination and other safeguards, the Rule ordered covered employers to adopt and enforce requirements that employees to get vaccinated or undergo regular testing and wear masks unless the employee qualifies for a religious or disability exception. Similar but tighter vaccination mandates are required in a separate OSHA emergency temporary standards for health care workers, a new condition of participation requirement for covered health care organizations to participate in Medicare or Medicaid, and conditions of eligibility to enter into federal government contracts over $250,000.

Last week, the 5th Circuit ordered that OSHA “take no steps to implement or enforce” the ETS “until further court order.” The Rule also faces challenges in several other Circuit Courts of Appeals. Ultimately, the Supreme Court is expected to decide the fate of the Rule. 

While OSHA remains confident in its authority to protect workers in emergencies, OSHA has suspended activities related to the implementation and enforcement of the ETS pending future developments in the litigation.

Pending final resolution of court challenges to the Rule, the 5th Circuit stay temporarily puts on hold the Rule OSHA published November 5, 2021, which generally requires employers with at least 100 employees to adopt and enforce COVID-19 vaccination or alternative testing and masking requirements for all employees in their workplaces by December 4, 2021.

Regardless of the ultimate outcome of challenges to the OSHA Rule, employees face significant risk negotiating vaccine and other COVID-19 safety policies from employee discrimination, retaliation and safety challenges and inquiries. The suspension adds more uncertainty and controversy to employers struggling to develop and administer Covid-19 vaccination and other safety policies around often conflicting federal and state rules in a highly charged political and litigious environment fraught with discrimination and retaliation claims risks fueled to new heights by new OSHA and EEOC retaliation guidance published last week.

Aside from OSHA’s announced confidence that the 5th Circuit’s temporary stay will be removed as litigation over the Rule progresses, the 5th Circuit order technically does not stop implementation of OSHA’s separate emergency temporary standard requiring vaccination for health care workers or new rules adding COVID-19 vaccination requirements as conditions of program participation for government contractors and Medicare participating health care providers.

Regardless of the outcome of the 5th Circuit ordered stay, the uncertainty created from differences among these federal and state rules and the 5th Circuit ordered stay provides tinder for retaliation claims against employers regardless of how the business chooses to respond to the stay.

Even if the mandates are enjoined are inapplicable to an organization, opposition to compliance, questions, expressions of concern, and other activity can support retaliation claims. That means retaliation and interference claims present as big or bigger threat as the rules themselves and last beyond the reach and validity of the rules.

Facing peril from all sides, employers must tread carefully in developing and administering their workplace COVID-19 vaccination and other safety policies to manage the exposures created from the resulting Catch-22 legal and political environment. Employees of course must will monitor the litigation and other regulatory developments. At the same time, employers should use when dealing with worker and other inquiries, expressions of concern and other dealings with employees and applicants regarding COVID-19 SAFETY, leave, accommodation and other concerns as well as to document carefully and preserve other evidence necessary to support performance and other business justified employment actions against potential retaliation or discrimination challenges.

More Information

The author of this update, employment lawyer Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, conducted a briefing on 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 hosted on November 12, 2021. To purchase a recording of the program, see here. For information about obtaining Ms. Stamer’s slides, 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.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns.

©2021 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™


Transgender Awareness Week Highlights Transgender Employment Right & Discrimination Risks

November 15, 2021

November 13-20 promises to be a week with transgender issues front and center for employers in the U.S. and other regions of the world joining in the 2021 observance of Transgender Awareness Week from November 13-20 and the Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20.  Employer can anticipate invitations to join in the observances as well as heightened emphasis and communications about transgender rights and concerns as agencies like the Office of Federal Contracts Compliance Programs (“OFCCP”), Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) and other federal and state governmental agencies involved in these concerns as well as various transgender advocacy groups participate in these annual observances.

Reportedly first celebrated in 1999, the Transgender Day of Remembrance commemorates victims of anti-transgender hate crimes, During the day, transgender people and their allies take action to bring attention to the transgender community and advance advocacy to address the prejudice, discrimination, and violence the community faces.  Leading up to the Transgender Day of Remembrance, Transgender Awareness Week observed November 13th to November 19th annually generally is observed through a series of events intended to educate about transgender and gender non-conforming people and the issues associated with their transition or identity.

Transgender Employment Discrimination Risks Rising

In 2020, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Bostock v. Clayton County that the sex discrimination prohibitions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protect  applicants and employees from employment discrimination based on transgender or other sexual preferences.  In keeping with this decision, the Department of Labor Equal Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has adopted and administer aggressive educational outreach, investigation and enforcement programs targeting employment discrimination against transgender, lesbian, bisexual, and gay (“LBGT”) individuals based on their sexual orientation.  Additionally, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (“OFCC”) since 2014 has explicitly prohibited federal contractors from discriminating against job applicants and employees based on gender identity and sexual orientation and under the Biden-Harris Administration is committed to firmly administering the prohibitions against discrimination against employees and applicants announced in Executive Order 11246 against federal government contractors and grant recipients.    

The Biden-Harris Administration has heightened this emphasis by making sexual orientation discrimination a priority.  In March, President Biden became the first President to recognize Transgender Day of Visibility, calling upon all individuals to join in the fight for full equality for all transgender people. On day one of this Administration, President Biden issued Executive Order 13988Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation, in which he stated:

Discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation manifests differently for different individuals, and it often overlaps with other forms of prohibited discrimination, including discrimination on the basis of race or disability.  For example, transgender Black Americans face unconscionably high levels of workplace discrimination, homelessness, and violence, including fatal violence. It is the policy of my Administration to prevent and combat discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation, and to fully enforce Title VII and other laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.  It is also the policy of my Administration to address overlapping forms of discrimination.  

In keeping with this commitment, OFCCP and EEOC both are stepping up their outreach and enforcement.   On June 28, 2021, the EEOC published its Frequently Asked Questions on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. and has made LBTG discrimination an investigation and enforcement priority that has resulted in several charges.  In August, 2021, for instance, the EEOC sued an Applebee’s franchise for allegedly discriminating based on sexual orientation by subjecting a Black line cook to a hostile work environment based on his sexual orientation and race and then allegedly retaliating against him for complaining..  On October 26, 2021, for instance, the EEOC announced that Minnesota furniture retailer Frizzell Furniture agreed to pay $60,000, revise its policies and conduct training to resolve a finding of gender identity sex discrimination.  According to the EEOC, its investigation showed Frizzell Furniture did not hire a job applicant for a sales position because he is transgender.  A hiring official informed the applicant he would not “mix well with the customers.” ddition, OFCCP has announced that it also is also exploring a method for voluntary self-identification to solicit and record information for people who have a non-binary gender identity.

Meanwhile, OFCCP also published its own Frequently Asked Questions on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in June, 2021. The OFCCP Guidance addresses the responsibility of government contractors and subcontractors to contract not to discriminate based on sexual preference and addresses the OFCCP’s expectations about the basic steps that contractors should take in advertising job positions, screening applicants, administering restroom access and other matters of concern relating to compliance with these obligations.  It also subsequently announced that it also is also exploring a method for voluntary self-identification to solicit and record information for people who have a non-binary gender identity. 

In the face of these developments, employers and others covered by Title VII should be aware and exhibit sensitivity during this week’s observances.  In addition, the observances this week provide an excellent reminder of the advisability of reviewing and tightening existing policies and practices regarding transgender and other policies, practices and training regarding sexual preference nondiscrimination in the workplace.

For Help Or More Information

For help developing, administering or defending your organization’s LBGT or other equal employment opportunity policies and practices, or other workforce, employee benefits, compensation or compliance practices, contact the author.

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 GroupHR & 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

.  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 who has advised and represented employers, employee benefit plans and others  and has spoken and published extensively regarding LBGT and other equal employment opportunity concerns for more than 25 years.  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.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns.

©2021 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™