During the week of July 20th, the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor published new guidance for employers, focusing on compliance under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) in the midst of the pandemic (See FLSA Q&A, FMLA Q&A, and FFCRA Q&A).
Employers beware, particularly those in healthcare sectors. If you provide a NIOSH-approved N95 “respirator” to protect employees from COVID-19, there are a number of OSHA respiratory protection standards that must be followed in a comprehensive Respiratory Protection Program. The Department of Labor OSHA’s July 21, 2020, national press release makes clear that OSHA will seek the maximum possible penalties for serious violations against companies that do not fully satisfy the respiratory protection standards.
On July 14, 2020, Governor Jared Polis signed the “Healthy Families and Workplaces Act” (“HFWA”). Several provisions of this law are effective immediately (July 15, 2020), and require paid sick leave specifically for COVID-19 related issues. Starting January 1, 2021, the HFWA will require that most employers provide their employees with up to 48 hours of paid sick leave per year. This article is Part 1 of a two-part series, and focuses on the immediately effective laws relating to COVID-19. We will discuss the details of the general paid sick leave in Part 2. Governor Polis also recently signed the Public Health Emergency Whistleblower Law (“PHEW”), effective July 11, 2020, which we will discuss briefly below.
On July 8, 2020, the Supreme Court expanded the scope of the “ministerial exception” to employment discrimination statutes. This exception is grounded in the First Amendment’s protections for religious institutions. In Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, the Court considered two cases involving elementary school teachers in Catholic schools who alleged that they were terminated in violation of federal employment discrimination law. Seven justices joined the majority opinion of the Court, holding that “When a school with a religious mission entrusts a teacher with the responsibility of educating and forming students in the faith, judicial intervention into disputes between the school and the teacher threatens the school’s independence in a way that the First Amendment does not allow.” A link to the full decision of the Court can be found here.
On June 15, 2020, the Supreme Court held that Title VII’s prohibition of “sex” discrimination also prohibits discrimination because of sexual orientation and transgender status. See Bostock v. Clayton County, Case No. 17-1618 (Slip Opinion). Therefore, “an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII.” Id. at pg. 1.
On May 19, OSHA issued two enforcement memos regarding COVID-19. The first of these memos revised OSHA’s requirements for employers as they determine whether individual cases of COVID-19 are work-related. The second enforcement memorandum OSHA issued on May 19 revised OSHA’s policy for handling COVID-19-related complaints, referrals, and severe illness reports. These two memos are summarized below.
Last week (April 4-12), several federal agencies issued updated guidance for employers on issues relating to COVID-19, including:
On April 9, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) updated its guidance for employers entitled “What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws,” found here. Previously issued guidance explained that employers may, under pandemic conditions, ask employees about whether they are experiencing certain symptoms. The EEOC further stated that employers may also implement other measures to protect against spread of COVID-19 due to the novel coronavirus in the workplace. The guidance further noted that if employers do receive health information from employees, the information must be maintained confidentially, and consistent with other requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”).
The Department of Labor (the “DOL”) issued FAQs regarding the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (the “FFCRA”) and has updated its FAQs multiple times by adding questions to the same document. The FAQs can be found here. The most recent update occurred on March 28, 2020 and addressed many of employers’ questions that were initially left unanswered in the FFCRA and the initial FAQs.
As of Friday, March 27, the Department of Labor has issued an updated notice on its website, as well as responses to additional questions about the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (the “Act”). The new notice can be found here: FFCRA Poster. The updated notice clarifies that employees may have a total of up to 12 weeks of leave, paid at 2/3 of pay, to care for a child whose school or place of care is closed (or child care provider is unavailable) due to COVID-19 related reasons.