A Missouri-based federal judge issued an order today partially blocking the Biden Administration from implementing the emergency regulation issued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) on November 4, 2021, that mandated COVID-19 vaccination by January 4, 2022, for the employees and contractors of covered health care facilities participating in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. The order, known as a preliminary injunction, is temporary in nature, although it could eventually become permanent if the lawsuit is successful.
On November 12, 2021, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision in which it reaffirmed its prior temporary injunction against implementation or enforcement of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Emergency Temporary Standard (the “ETS”) mandating COVID-19 vaccination and testing. The November 12 decision reaffirmed a prior stay issued on November 6th and found that the ETS was both overbroad and under-inclusive. The court found the ETS overbroad because it failed to consider that COVID-19 is “more dangerous to some employees than to other employees.” BST Holdings, L.L.C. et al. v. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, et al., No. 21-60845, slip. op at 13. The court found it underinclusive because even the most vulnerable workers would draw no protection from the ETS if the company employs 99 employees or fewer. Id. at 15. It further ordered the agency to “take no steps to implement or enforce” the ETS until further court order.
On November 6, 2021, the Fifth Circuit issued a temporary injunction on OSHA’s ETS for employers with 100 or more employees. The Fifth Circuit’s Order is brief citing “grave statutory and constitutional issues” with the ETS. The Court ordered the government to respond to the motion for a permanent injunction by 5:00 p.m. today, November 8, 2021. The petitioners have until tomorrow, November 9, 2021, at 5:00 p.m. to provide a reply to the government’s response.
On November 4, 2021, OSHA issued its 490-page document setting out its Emergency Temporary Standard for COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing, as published in the Federal Register at 86 Fed. Reg. 61402 (Nov. 5, 2021). The ETS requires covered employers to develop, implement, and enforce a mandatory vaccination policy by December 5, 2021, with all covered employees vaccinated by no later than January 4, 2022. Alternatively, the ETS permits covered employers to instead adopt a policy requiring employees to either get vaccinated or elect, in lieu of vaccination, to wear a face covering at work and undergo weekly COVID-19 testing. The ETS imposes many additional safety protocols, recordkeeping, and disclosure requirements for covered employers and employees beyond mandatory vaccination and testing.
OSHA issued the long-awaited ETS requiring employers with 100 or more employees to mandate that employees either get the COVID-19 vaccine or undergo weekly COVID-19 testing. The Spencer Fane Labor and Employment Attorneys are analyzing the ETS and will be providing a more in-depth client alert shortly, in addition to hosting an educational WorkSmarts™ webinar on Wednesday, November 10 from 2:00pm-3:00pm CT. In the meantime, here are a few highlights:
The White House has released a new set of FAQs meant to provide flexibility to employers who are federal contractors and subcontractors in their efforts to satisfy the December 8, 2021 deadline for their employees to be fully vaccinated. These latest FAQs are intended to give some clarity while also grace to those contractors making good-faith efforts to reach compliance with new COVID-19 workplace safety protocols.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission snuck in some pre-Halloween updates to its Technical Assistance Questions and Answers for COVID-19, Title VII, and other EEO laws. In this latest round, published October 25, 2021, the agency finally gave us additional guidance on how employers should handle requests for religious-based exceptions to mandatory vaccination requirements, more commonly known as “religious accommodation requests.”
Information for Construction, Transportation, Aerospace/Defense, and Other Industries
Last Friday, October 15, 2021, marked the date on which federal agencies were required to begin incorporating a clause compelling compliance with federal COVID-19 workplace safety protocols, including a vaccination mandate for covered workers, into certain existing and new federal contracts, as detailed in guidance issued by the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force on September 24, 2021, pursuant to Executive Order 14042.
On September 8, 2021, the Office of the General Counsel to the NLRB issued a memorandum to all Regional Directors encouraging them “to continue exploring new and alternative remedies” to ensure that the victims of unfair labor practices are made whole for the losses they suffer as a result of unlawful conduct. See Memorandum GC 21-06 (Sept. 8, 2021). This is an important development for employers to monitor because it strongly suggests that the NLRB plans to seek harsher remedies for unfair labor practice violations than it has done historically.
On September 9, 2021, the Biden Administration announced a new plan to use federal regulatory powers to reduce the number of unvaccinated Americans. The thrust of the administrative initiative involves “substantially increas[ing] the number of Americans covered by vaccination requirements,” primarily through mandates that “will become dominant in the workplace.” The Administration estimates that these new mandates will affect over 80 million Americans eligible to be vaccinated but who have not yet gotten their first COVID-19 shot.