As more employers mandate vaccines for their workforces, in-house legal departments are encountering a host of challenges, including understanding religious accommodations and minimizing litigation exposure. According to this article published in Law.com, employers should have the ability to navigate Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII-related accommodation requests. However, McDermott Partner Carole Spink said many employers have never encountered the current breadth of religious exemption requests from their workforces.
As more and more private and public companies require vaccinations, employees are finding it increasingly difficult to avoid these mandates. In this BBC Radio 5 Live interview, McDermott Partner Michelle Strowhiro noted that US employers have a right to mandate vaccination for any employee that is in an employer’s office.
“As such, if an employee is violating that policy and is coming into an office unvaccinated, an employer can take action and terminate that employee,” Strowhiro said.
While many of the United States’ largest corporations don’t oppose the Biden administration’s vaccine requirements for many employers, those companies say many of their questions about the administration’s rule have gone unanswered. The new rule requires employers with more than 100 employers to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations or require weekly testing of employees.
“Administratively, it’s going to be quite burdensome for employers, especially large employers with hundreds or thousands of employees, to track weekly the testing results for employees,” Strowhiro said.
Mask Up, Vax Up: Illinois Governor Issues Immediate Face Covering Mandate for All, COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate for Healthcare, School and State Workers and Students
On August 26, 2021, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker issued Executive Order 2021-20 (the Order). The Order mandates that all individuals in Illinois who are at least two years old and who are medically able must wear face coverings indoors and in other specified settings.
In addition, the Order mandates COVID-19 vaccination for certain professionals in healthcare and education, as well as for students and state employees, subject to certain exemptions which require regular COVID-19 testing.
California Requires Vaccines or Regular COVID-19 Testing for Certain Healthcare Workers and State Employees
On July 26, 2021, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) issued a new Order that impacts healthcare and state employers in California. According to McDermott’s Michelle S. Strowhiro, Ellen M. Bronchetti and Ludia Kwon, the CDPH Order requires that almost all healthcare employers verify the vaccination status of all of their workers.
The Order also requires workers who are not fully vaccinated to go through regular COVID-19 testing at specified intervals. These facilities also must have a plan in place for tracking verified worker vaccination statuses.
As employers navigate evolving COVID-19 state and federal rules, workplaces will have to stay vigilant about changes throughout the second half of 2021. These include changes to mask mandates, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Emergency Temporary Standard and the New York Health and Essential Rights (HERO) Act.
Recent US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidance, for example, confirmed what employment lawyers had already been counseling businesses to do, according to McDermott partner Carole A. Spink in a recent Law360 article.
“The guidance was important because it did clarify that employers can provide incentives for voluntary programs. [There] was a big open question about, ‘Am I going to get into trouble because I’m trying to incentivize people to be vaccinated?'”
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently offered employers leeway to relax safety rules for fully vaccinated workers. However, experts say that validating who is vaccinated is rife with potentially costly missteps. In an article published in Law360, McDermott partner Michelle S. Strowhiro said employers must be careful not to ask follow-up questions unless they are implementing a mandatory policy or “taking a position that vaccination status is job-related and consistent with business necessity.”
On June 21, 2021, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) long-anticipated Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) for COVID-19 requirements in the healthcare industry went into effect. Most of the requirements must be followed by July 6, 2021; the remainder (on implementing physical barriers, improved ventilation systems and employee trainings) must be implemented no later than July 21, 2021, according to McDermott’s Abigail M. Kagan and Michelle S. Strowhiro. OSHA’s COVID-19 safety requirements are workplace-specific. Employers who have some employees working in a patient setting and other employees working in a corporate setting may need to follow the requirements only for the patient-based setting.
When the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) relaxed its mask guidance in May, the news caught many people—especially corporate America—off guard.
In this Forbes article, McDermott partner Michael W. Peregrine argues that companies need to provide stakeholders with clear health and safety messaging in light of mandates from state and local governments.
“Companies can ill-afford to drift in the wind of confusion and controversy, and they can’t be blindsided by further guidance change should there be an increase in reported cases or should variants, like those first found in India, surface in the United States,” Peregrine writes.
A “closed point of dispensing” (CPOD) is emerging as a valuable model for employers working to make vaccines more broadly available as the United States moves toward mass vaccination efforts. Establishing a CPOD requires a deliberate strategy but can be done efficiently and proactively by taking a few initial steps.