The Texas Legislature has been quite busy over the most recent regular and two specially-called legislative sessions. It adjourned its second specially-called legislative session on September 2, 2021. Additional bills may be enacted into law if and when Governor Greg Abbott calls a third special session. So far, Governor Abbott has signed into law several bills that may have flown under the radars of many Texas employers. Here’s a brief recap of several new laws that may impact Texas businesses and their workforce.

Expansive new sexual harassment protections

As we noted in prior posts (July 6, 2021 and September 2, 2021), Texas passed several new laws that increase legal protections against sexual harassment. The laws, which went into effect on September 1, 2021, expand liability for sexual harassment to companies with just one employee and to individual supervisors and coworkers. The legislation also lengthens the deadline from 180 days to 300 days for a claimant to file a charge alleging sexual harassment with the Texas Workforce Commission.

Liability shield for Texas businesses from most COVID-19 claims

As we noted in prior posts (July 15, 2021 and August 19, 2021), Texas – along with 18 other states – passed statutory liability protections for businesses against claims arising from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Pandemic Liability Protection Act (PLPA), which went into effect on June 14, 2021, grants retroactive liability protection for both small and large businesses for claims commenced on or after March 13, 2020. The PLPA does not provide Texas businesses an absolute immunity shield, and claims can still be brought for a pandemic-related injury or death if the business:

  • Knowingly failed to warn of, or to fix, a condition it knew was likely to result in exposure, and the failure to warn or fix was the cause in fact of the exposure; or
  • Knowingly failed or refused to comply with government standards, guidance or protocols that are intended to lower the likelihood of exposure to COVID-19, and the failure or refusal to comply was the cause in fact of the exposure.

As written, the PLPA’s liability shield will continue to protect businesses until Governor Abbott terminates the current COVID-19 pandemic disaster declaration.
Continue Reading Overview of several new workplace laws Texas employers should know about following the recent legislative sessions

On August 26, 2021, the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s (DOLI’s) Safety and Health Codes Board (Board) voted 8 to 5 to update and continue its COVID-19 permanent workplace safety standard. That vote came despite the fact that the bulk of COVID-19 business requirements issued by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam ended on May

On Thursday, September 9, 2021, President Biden issued a memorandum, “Path Out of the Pandemic” (the Memo), announcing a six-pronged national strategy to combat COVID-19. Among other things, President Biden has ordered the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to develop and issue an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) to require

In addition to the issue of mandated COVID-19 vaccine policies, employers must also manage the related privacy risks. Below are some of the frequently asked questions surrounding the issues of employee privacy as it relates to the COVID-19 vaccine. We also have a downloadable version of our privacy FAQs.

Question: Does it matter what type of information the company asks employees to provide to confirm their vaccine status?

Answer: Absolutely. Asking employees to confirm yes/no information seeks different information than, for example, requesting a copy of the employee’s vaccination card or more detailed records (such as lab results confirming presence of antibodies from a medical provider). Companies should be mindful of what information they are requesting because the inquiry might trigger heightened data-privacy and document-retention requirements. Companies should request only the information they require to confirm the vaccination status of the employee and should not collect any other information that is not necessary for that purpose. Companies should also be mindful of the privacy, security and other legal requirements involved in communicating with employees about any requested exception to a mandatory vaccine program based on a medical condition. The interactive process would likely include asking employees disability-related questions—and potentially questions implicating genetic nondiscrimination and health-data privacy laws (such as GINA or HIPAA).

Question: Our company plans to require employees to provide proof of their vaccine status by emailing human resources a copy of their vaccine card. Does this present any data-privacy concerns?

Answer: There are several issues to consider. How secure is your company’s email system? Can employees access their work email on their phones? If so, are there password and other security measures in place to prevent unauthorized access to that information? What does HR plan to do with the information once it receives it? Will it be printed out and stored in a paper file? Does the company plan to insert that information into the employee’s personnel file and/or HR database? Who would have access to that information? If the company plans on storing the data electronically, does the company have sole possession, custody and control of the servers where the data will be stored? If so, the company may want to confirm where those servers are physically located, and whether any state or local laws of that jurisdiction impose additional data-privacy, data-security and breach-notification requirements.

It’s worth noting here that HIPAA does not typically apply to the relationship between an employer and its employees. That being said, employers should still follow best practices and remain sensitive to the fact that they requesting and maintaining potentially sensitive employee health data. Additionally, if an employer performs services that are regulated under HIPAA, employees could be due additional protections. In this set of circumstances, an employer could be maintaining different data sets about an employee – of which one is regulated under HIPAA, and the other is not.
Continue Reading FAQs on US employee privacy issues related to the COVID-19 vaccine

Late last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (the FDA) issued the first approvals for a COVID-19 vaccine. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the EEOC) issued guidance on the interplay between federal anti-discrimination law and vaccine-related issues, including the permissibility of mandatory employer vaccination policies. The below FAQs address some of the more salient questions surrounding such policies and their implementation, as well as other workplace issues triggered by the vaccine. There are undeniably more questions than answers at present with respect to vaccine-related workplace issues. Before taking any material workplace action with respect to the vaccine, therefore, please consult with a Reed Smith employment lawyer. We also have a downloadable version of our FAQs.

Q: Can employers adopt a mandatory employee vaccination policy?

A: Generally speaking, yes. In guidance issued in late May 2021, the EEOC took the position that mandatory vaccination policies are generally permissible under federal anti-discrimination laws. Just a few weeks later, in June 2021, a federal court – in the first ruling on this issue – echoed this sentiment in concluding that such policies are generally permissible. The following month, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a detailed memo reaching the same conclusion.

The two primary exceptions to the general permissibility of employer-mandated vaccination policies are for employees with disabilities and for those with a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or custom. If an employee refuses to be vaccinated and objects to a mandatory vaccination policy on one of these grounds, the employer must engage in the so-called interactive process with the employee and, subject to the “undue hardship” standards discussed below, provide the employee with a reasonable accommodation in line with applicable law.

In addition to legally required accommodations, the EEOC also cautions employers to be cognizant of any potential disparate impact created by a vaccine mandate.

Q: Are there state or local laws that address mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies?

A: Employers must pay attention to state laws in the jurisdiction(s) where they operate. Several states have introduced legislation attempting to limit private employers’ ability to mandate COVID-19 vaccines. To date, such efforts have been without success other than in Montana.

Q: If an employer adopts a mandatory employee vaccination policy, how should it respond to an employee who indicates that they are unable to receive a COVID-19 vaccination because of a disability or a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or custom?

A: As noted, the employer must engage in an interactive process with the employee. When an employee objects to vaccination, they are requesting an accommodation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) (for a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or custom) or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (for a disability). The employer must provide a reasonable accommodation unless the accommodation would pose an undue hardship. Undue hardship is defined under Title VII as an accommodation that poses a “more than de minimis” cost or burden. For the ADA, undue hardship is more onerous to establish and is defined as creating significant difficulty or expense for the employer.
Continue Reading To mandate or not? FAQs on mandatory vaccine programs for employers

On June 4, 2021, the New Jersey legislature passed legislation (A5820/S3866) enabling the end of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency in place since March 9, 2020. Under the legislation, the majority of New Jersey’s COVID-19 related Executive Orders will lapse on July 4, 2021. The legislation specifically keeps fourteen Executive Orders in place until January 1, 2022 (which may be subject to further extension):

  • Executive Order 106 (Eviction Moratorium)
  • Executive Order 111 (Healthcare reporting)
  • Executive Order 112 (COVID-19 Health Care Responders)
  • Executive Order 123 (Insurance Premium Grace Periods)
  • Executive Order 127 (Rulemaking Deadlines)
  • Executive Order 150 (Outdoor Dining Protocols and Process to Expand Premises for Liquor License Holders)
  • Executive Order 159 (Extension of Certain Statutory Deadlines)
  • Executive Order 170  (Extension of Certain Statutory Deadlines)
  • Executive Order 178  (Extension of Certain Statutory Deadlines)
  • Executive Order 207 (Enrollment in NJ Immunization Information System)
  • Executive Order 229 (Utility Shut-off Moratorium)
  • Executive Order 233 (Stimulus Payments Exempt from garnishment)
  • Executive Order 237 (Summer Youth Overnight and Day Camps)
  • Executive Order 242 (Lifting of Restrictions)


Continue Reading Many NJ COVID-related Executive Orders set to expire July 4

As we previously reported, on March 18, 2020, New York State passed a law providing job protection and benefits to certain employees quarantined or isolated due to exposure to and/or infection with COVID-19. On January 20, the New York State Department of Labor issued supplemental guidance clarifying some important points for employers about complying

On January 13, 2021, the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s (DOLI’s) Safety and Health Codes Board voted 9-4 to approve a permanent COVID-19 workplace safety standard, setting the stage for Virginia to become the first state in the nation to do so. In July 2020, DOLI’s Virginia Occupational Safety and Health Program (VOSH) adopted

As we previously reported, this past September the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) proposed a new rule that would create a uniform approach to the way companies classify workers as independent contractors or employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). More specifically, in the proposed rule, the DOL adopted the “economic reality” test,

On June 15, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, No. 17-1618 (U.S. Jun. 15, 2020), which held that an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In a 6-3 opinion authored by