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Fifth Circuit Brings Enforcement Back into the Mix: The Latest Court Moves with the CMS Vaccination Mandate

A flurry of litigation in federal district and appellate courts has led to an even split between states in which the COVID-19 vaccine mandate issued by the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) may be implemented and states in which such implementation has been prevented. Additional appeals are expected shortly; however, the practical effect of these decisions on enforcement of the CMS mandate remains uncertain.

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New York City Unveils COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate Details

On December 13, 2021, the Commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), Dr. Dave A. Chokshi, published an order (the Order) requiring private employers to impose COVID-19 vaccine mandates upon all in-person employees within New York City, with limited exceptions, as of December 27, 2021. DOHMH provided a series of FAQs and additional guidance on December 15, 2021. The Order follows Mayor Bill de Blasio’s December 6, 2021, announcement of this impending mandate.

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‘Very Fluid Situation’ as Courts Halt COVID Vaccination Rules for Healthcare Providers

While the fate of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) November 5 vaccination mandate rests in the hands of the federal courts, experts say the potential loss of healthcare employees outweighs any of the mandate’s benefits. In this Health Care Compliance Association article, McDermott Partner Sandra M. DiVarco called the situation “bonkers.”

“Almost every hospital has so many unfilled positions, and they are concerned even a small amount of forced terminations will impact their ability to staff and risk burnout in the staff they have,” DiVarco said.

Access the article (page 3).




Georgia Court Issues Nationwide Injunction Blocking Federal Contractor Vaccine Mandate

On December 7, 2021, the US District Court for the Southern District of Georgia issued a nationwide injunction that blocks the federal government from enforcing the federal contractor and subcontractor vaccine mandate. The preliminary injunction issued is for the pendency of the litigation challenging the enforceability of the mandate filed by the states of Georgia, Alabama, Idaho, Kansas, South Carolina, Utah and West Virginia. This injunction order may be challenged on appeal.

Read more here.




NYC Announces Vaccine Mandate for All Employers Effective December 27, 2021

On December 6, 2021, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that all New York City employers, regardless of size, will be required to impose COVID-19 vaccination mandates on all employees (subject to legally protected exemptions) by December 27, 2021.

This new vaccine requirement is in addition to the City’s existing COVID-19 vaccination mandate for establishments providing indoor dining, gyms, theaters and other entertainment services. Mayor de Blasio cited the combination of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant and holiday gatherings as the motivation for this mandate.

Read more here.




New IRS Guidance for Tax-Qualified Pension Plans with Rehired Retirees Due to COVID-19

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently updated its guidance for retiree distributions under a defined benefit plan. Specifically, the new IRS guidance addresses rehires following a bona fide retirement due to COVID-19.

As a background, a defined benefit plan may make distributions to a retiree only in the case of a “bona fide retirement,” which is a facts and circumstances analysis. In prior rulings, the IRS indicated that retiree distributions without a bona fide retirement can cause a defined benefit plan to lose its tax-qualified status, where both all contributions and earnings become immediately taxable.

According to the IRS, a rehire due to COVID-19-related “unforeseen circumstances” generally would not disqualify an individual’s prior retirement from being considered a bona fide retirement under a defined benefit plan. However, the IRS cautioned that such a rehire cannot include any prearrangement to rehire the individual prior to the individual’s retirement. Such a prearrangement still yields a retirement that is not “bona fide.”

Finally, although the IRS issued this guidance in question and answer format primarily for defined benefit plans, plan sponsors should be able to apply the same rationale to distributions from defined contribution plans. In short, the new IRS guidance provides welcome relief to plan sponsors and employers who are looking to rehire retirees in a tight job market.




UPDATE: CMS Issues COVID-19 Vaccination Interim Final Rule for Healthcare Facilities

On November 16, 2021, 12 states—Montana, Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah and West Virginia—filed a complaint in the US District Court for the Western District of Louisiana requesting that the Interim Final Rule with comment period (IFR) that put in place the vaccination mandate applicable to certain covered healthcare facilities and staff be declared arbitrary and capricious, contrary to law and in excess of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) statutory authority. CMS published an IFR on November 5, 2021, that implements the Biden administration’s previously announced vaccine mandate for healthcare facilities. The expansive IFR applies to more than a dozen types of healthcare providers and suppliers (facilities), affects more than 10 million healthcare staff and carries an anticipated potential price tag in excess of $1.3 billion dollars for the first year of implementation.

Read more here.




Whistleblowers, Fears of Losing Funds Key to Enforcing US Vaccine Rules

Even though the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit temporarily blocked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) COVID-19 vaccination rule for employers (though not for the healthcare sector), businesses should continue preparing for important OSHA deadlines.

According to this Reuters article, workplace whistleblowers and fears of disappearing federal funds will likely help with vaccination mandates within businesses, hospitals and nursing homes. However, OSHA is unlikely to demand proof from every healthcare provider of vaccination and testing protocols. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) also typically does not survey accredited healthcare providers unless there is a complaint or a need for recertification, McDermott Partner Sandra DiVarco noted.

“On a stakeholder call, CMS reiterated their desire to work with providers to come into compliance and not to sort of send SWAT teams to go out and look for problems,” DiVarco said.

Access the article.




Women and the Pandemic Workplace: Corporate Leadership’s Important New Challenges

While a recent McKinsey and LeanIn.org women and the workplace study pointed to positive gains for women in corporate leadership roles in 2020, women continue to face substantial burdens in their careers. According to this Forbes article, McDermott Partner Michael Peregrine says such burdens pose a “significant threat to the economic and cultural health of an organization.” These burdens include hierarchical validation, burnout, and significant bias and discrimination for women of color.

“Ideally, boards can use the 2020 progress as evidence that their leadership on gender equity can—and does—make a difference,” Peregrine notes.

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Businesses Left in Limbo on COVID-19 Mandate

Following a US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit decision to temporarily block the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) new vaccine requirement rule, many employers have found themselves in a state of confusion. According to this article published in The Hill, businesses could face steep penalties if they willfully violate the rule, such as fines of more than $130,000. But even though the rule is temporarily blocked, McDermott Partner Michelle Strowhiro said businesses should continue preparing for important OSHA deadlines.

“I think it’s prudent for employers to proceed with planning assuming that the OSHA rule, at least in some form or fashion, will be implemented pending final resolution of the various court cases,” Strowhiro said.

Access the article.




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