OSHA issued its Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) in early November. A series of challenges quickly ensued, resulting in a stay of the ETS and a consolidation of the cases before the Sixth Circuit. On December 17, 2021, the Sixth Circuit lifted the stay. OSHA has indicated that it will delay enforcement of the ETS deadlines
Ben H. Patton
OSHA COVID-19 rule: Sixth Circuit case status update
On November 16, 2021, the Sixth Circuit was selected via a lottery to hear the consolidated challenges made against the recent OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard (the ETS). As background, on November 5, 2021, OSHA published the ETS that would require most private employers with 100 or more employees to establish either (1) a mandatory vaccination policy requiring that all covered employees be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, or (2) a vaccination policy that requires that employees choose between being fully vaccinated or submitting to regular and recurring COVID-19 testing.
While all eyes had previously been on the Fifth Circuit, it is now the Sixth Circuit that’s in the spotlight. Not surprisingly, there has been a flurry of activity in the case. There are currently two main issues pending before the court that will certainly shape the dispute: (1) several petitioners have asked for an initial hearing en banc (i.e., requesting that the full court – and not just a three-judge panel – decide the case initially); and (2) the government has asked the court to dissolve the Fifth Circuit’s stay.
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OSHA issues COVID-19 ETS for large private employers
Update – On November 6, 2021 the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary stay of the ETS.
On November 4, 2021, OSHA issued an unpublished version of its long-awaited Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) as to COVID-19 vaccination or testing requirements covering most private employers with 100 or more employees. The ETS is scheduled to be published and take effect on November 5, 2021. As summarized below, the ETS requires covered employers to establish either (1) a mandatory vaccination policy requiring that all covered employees be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, or (2) a vaccination policy that requires that employees choose between being fully vaccinated or submitting to regular and recurring COVID-19 testing. It should be noted that these are “minimum” requirements, such that employers are not prohibited from establishing more stringent policies, and do not supplant the requirements of a collective bargaining agreement.
Employers will have 30 days, or until December 5, 2021, to comply with all non-testing requirements of the ETS, and 60 days, or until January 4, 2022, to comply with testing requirements for employees who have not received all doses required for primary vaccination. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act), an ETS serves as a proposal for a permanent standard, and the OSH Act calls for the permanent standard to be finalized within six months after publication of the ETS (29 U.S.C. 655(c)(3)).
For purposes of the ETS, a covered employer is one with 100 or more employees “at any time” during the effective period of the ETS. This means that employers who meet this minimum threshold as of the effective date of the ETS are covered throughout the effective time of the ETS, even if the employer later falls under the minimum employee threshold. For any employer that falls short of 100 employees as of the effective date but reaches the threshold at any point that the ETS is in effect, the employer will become subject to the ETS requirements as of the date they meet the threshold and remain covered for the remaining duration of the ETS, even if the employer later reduces staff such that it falls under the threshold. To calculate the number of employees, all part-time and full-time employees must be accounted for, regardless of where they work (including those that work at home). However, independent contractors are not included in the calculation. Also, employees supplied to a customer site by staffing companies only count toward the staffing company’s employee total; they do not count toward the customer company’s total. Similarly, as to franchisee-franchisor relationships, their respective employees count only toward their own calculation, not the other party’s employee count (i.e., a franchisee’s employees count only toward the franchisee’s calculation, and not the franchisor’s count). The ETS excludes: (1) Employers that are covered under the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force COVID-19 Workplace Safety: Guidance for Federal Contractors and Subcontractors; and (2) certain settings where any employee provides healthcare services or healthcare support services.
The ETS specifies that the requirements apply only to employees who visit an employer’s indoor locations where other people are present. Employees who work exclusively at home, outdoors, or at a site where the employee is the only person present are not required to comply with the employer’s requirements. However, should such an employee later be required to, or seek to, visit one of the employer’s indoor facilities, the employee must satisfy the vaccination or testing requirements.
Reasonable accommodations/Exceptions to policy
The ETS requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations and exceptions for employees (i) for whom the vaccine is medically contraindicated; (ii) for whom medical necessity requires a delay in vaccination; or (iii) who are entitled to a reasonable accommodation due to a disability or sincerely held religious beliefs, practices, or observances that conflict with the vaccination requirement.
As to the vaccination requirements, the employer is required to provide an employee with time to obtain and recover from a vaccination. Specifically, the employer must provide up to four hours of paid time, inclusive of travel time, at the employee’s regular pay rate, to obtain a vaccine. The employer must also provide reasonable paid time off to recover from any side effects of each dose of a vaccine.
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Cal-OSHA released proposed revisions to the COVID-19 prevention order
UPDATE on May 20, 2021: Since this article was published, Cal/OSHA has delayed the vote on the new proposed Emergency Temporary Standards. Please read details on the delayed vote on the Reed Smith EHS Law Insights Blog.
As vaccination rates increase in California, the California Department of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal-OSHA) has released a draft of a new proposed COVID-19 emergency regulation. The California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board will vote on whether to send the proposed regulation to the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) on May 20th. After it is received, the OAL is only required to allow five calendar days for submission of comments and 10 calendar days for review before filing with the Secretary of State. Given this timeline, it is likely that the new regulations will become effective in early June.
The new COVID-19 emergency regulations loosen a number of the prior requirements for fully vaccinated workers. The new COVID-19 emergency regulations, however, also add a number of new compliance requirements for employers. In that regard, the new proposed regulation contains many important changes to how face coverings and N-95 masks must be used, testing and exposure requirements, and the prior exclusion and wage replacement rules. The key changes in these areas are briefly summarized below:…
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Virginia is the first state to adopt extensive COVID-19 workplace safety regulations
On July 15, 2020, in response to Governor Northam’s Executive Order No. 63 directing the issuance of emergency regulations to control, prevent, and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s (DOLI’s) Safety and Health Codes Board voted 9-2 to approve extensive emergency workplace safety standards in response to COVID‑19. These new occupational safety and health requirements include a broad array of requirements for all employers in Virginia as well as additional requirements for employers with job positions in certain risk categories.
DOLI has indicated that it expects the regulations to be published this week. With exceptions for delays of certain training requirements by 30 days and development of an infectious disease preparedness and response plan by 60 days, they will become effective immediately upon publication.).
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OSHA revises COVID-19 recordkeeping requirements
As numerous states begin to reopen, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently announced a revised recordkeeping enforcement memorandum, effective May 26, 2020, that outlines when employers must record COVID-19 cases as a work-related illness. This revised guidance replaces OSHA’s previous April 2020 memorandum and removes the relaxed application of the agency’s recordkeeping requirements contained therein. Thus, OSHA’s prior, noticeably more stringent requirements apply as of May 26, 2020. OSHA has also updated its Interim Enforcement Response Plan for Coronavirus to reflect the updated enforcement guidance, and indicated that the agency is increasing in-person inspections at all types of workplaces.
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OSHA and state agencies issue COVID-19 guidance: what employers and businesses need to know
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and certain state plan safety regulators have issued guidance regarding potential workplace hazards resulting from exposure to COVID-19. This article discusses the content and implications of the new guidance, as well as related guidance from the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
OSHA, which regulates worker health and safety in the 22 states that do not have approved state plans, has published guidance regarding the protection of workers from COVID-19. Although the agency has not promulgated a regulation that specifically addresses COVID-19, OSHA identifies several regulatory standards that apply to the protection of workers from infectious disease hazards, including:
- 29 C.F.R. 1910, Subpart I – Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
- 29 C.F.R. 1910, Subpart J – General Environmental Controls
- 29 C.F.R. 1910, Subpart Z – Toxic and Hazardous Substances
- 29 C.F.R. 1904 – Recordkeeping and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illnesses
- Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act – General Duty Clause
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