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In light of the U.S. Supreme Court decision on June 24, 2022, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which holds that access to abortion is not a constitutional right, employers are faced with myriad challenges moving forward. Our Labor and Employment lawyers, working with Reed Smith’s Reproductive Health Working Group, address some of

The highest court in the land has, at long last, weighed in on the permissibility of the federal government’s November 2021 vaccine-or-test rule for large employers. Specifically, on January 13, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), which had required that private employers with 100 or more U.S. employees adopt either (1) a mandatory vaccination policy or (2) a policy that allows employees to choose between vaccination and submission of weekly COVID tests (as we previously discussed here).

As a result, employers previously covered by the ETS will not have to comply – at least for now – with its requirements. Below we will discuss the Court’s ruling and, equally if not more importantly, what this means for U.S. employers.Continue Reading Supreme Court blocks federal vaxx-or-test rule for large employers

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

On December 17, 2021, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals dissolved the stay previously placed on OSHA’s so-called “vaccinate or test” Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS). Consequently, covered employers with 100 or more employees will now be required to comply with the ETS under the newly announced deadlines of January 10, 2022 for all non-testing requirements

As noted in our prior post regarding the Sixth Circuit handling the challenges to the OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard (the ETS), several of the parties targeting the OSHA ETS filed or joined various petitions requesting an initial hearing en banc. On December 15, 2021, the Sixth Circuit denied the various petitions for initial hearing en banc because there was not majority support of the active judges. It appears that it was a very close call – of the 16 active judges, eight were for en banc and eight were against it. As a result, the case will proceed before the typical three-judge panel. The three judges have been assigned; however, we do not know who they are at this point.

Judge Moore issued a concurring opinion recognizing the inefficiencies that go along with an en banc hearing. The concurrence noted that the case “require[s] focused consideration by a devoted panel,” and that an en banc hearing “would have strained the resources of the sixteen active judges.”

There are two dissenting opinions. Chief Judge Sutton’s dissent recognizes that, with respect to the initial hearing en banc, “[t]his is an extraordinary case, suitable for an extraordinary procedure.” But he also notes that the Sixth Circuit “likely will not be the final decisionmakers in this case, given the prospect of review by the U.S. Supreme Court.”   
Continue Reading OSHA ETS: Sixth Circuit denies initial hearing en banc

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.
Continue Reading OSHA COVID-19 rule: Sixth Circuit case status update

Reed Smith’s Labor & Employment group is proud to announce the launch of our video chat series, Employment Law Watch: Real Time. The series will focus on new developments and hot topics that employers around the world need to know about. Tune in for regular 10 to 15 minute chats led by the firm’s labor

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.

Effective date

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)).

Covered employers

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.

Excluded employees

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.
Continue Reading OSHA issues COVID-19 ETS for large private employers

As we discussed here, employers who have implemented mandatory vaccine policies – either by choice or by government mandate – have seen a significant uptick in religious accommodation requests. As a result, on October 25, 2021, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued guidance regarding employers’ obligations under federal anti-discrimination law when an employee

Most Texas employers are likely already familiar with Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s Executive Order GA-39 that prohibits state and local governments from requiring (1) individuals to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, or (2) documentation proving vaccine status (that is, “vaccine passports”) as a condition to receive any service or enter any place.

Building upon Executive Order GA-39, on October 11, 2021, Governor Abbott issued Executive Order GA-40 (the Texas EO), which prohibits private employers in Texas from requiring that employees receive a COVID-19 vaccination. Specifically, the Texas EO prohibits any Texas entity from “compel[ling] receipt of a COVID-19 vaccine by any individual, including an employee or a consumer, who objects to such vaccination for any reason of personal conscience, based on a religious belief, or for medical reasons, including prior recovery from COVID-19.” Texas entities that violate the Texas EO can be fined up to $1,000 (it is unclear whether the fine will be per violation). The Texas EO does not create any private cause of action, nor does it call for retroactive application.

The Texas EO creates three bases for employees to object to vaccination: (1) personal conscience; (2) religious belief; and (3) medical reasons. The Texas EO also specifically states that prior recovery from COVID-19 is a valid basis for an individual to object to a COVID-19 vaccine. The objections permitted under the Texas EO go far beyond the religious and medical exemptions to vaccine mandates under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, respectively. Moreover, the Texas EO does not contain an undue burden exception or mention any other grounds that would permit an employer to deny an employee’s objection to a mandatory COVID-19 vaccine that is made under the three bases in the Texas EO.Continue Reading Texas executive order restricts mandatory vaccination policies for employers