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.™


Most OSHA COVID-19 Vaccine & Other Mandates Take Effect 12/4 For 100+ Workforces As OSHA Considers Extending Mandates To Smaller Workplaces

November 4, 2021

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.

More Information

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 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

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.™