Many plan administrators expressed bewilderment at the Biden administration’s recent guidance to limit vaccine incentive or surcharge programs for unvaccinated plan participants. According to this SHRM article, which features insight from McDermott Partner Judith Wethall, any premium surcharges must comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act’s (HIPPA) nondiscrimination rules. HIPPA nondiscrimination rules allow for participatory and health-contingent permissible wellness programs.
What questions should a governing board’s human capital committee ask itself? According to this August 2021 e-book edited by McDermott Partner Michael Peregrine, committee members should regularly ask themselves questions about workforce strategy and engagement, outstanding litigation, talent pipeline and management strategy and human capital technology.
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.
An August Willis Towers Watson poll found that 52% of 961 surveyed companies intend to implement at least one vaccine mandate by 2021’s fourth quarter. In a poll in May, 72% of respondents said they had no plans to require vaccines.
To encourage vaccination, some employers—like Delta Air Lines—are introducing or considering company healthcare plan surcharges for unvaccinated employees. However, in this article published via Advisory Board, McDermott Partner Judith Wethall said few employers have actually “pulled the trigger” on such a move.
Telemedicine in the United States is facing an important crossroads. While telehealth services have demonstrated their value as an integral part of care delivery, federal and state waivers instituted during the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to expire soon. As lawmakers and agency officials consider updated or expanded digital health rules, regulators are expected to intensify their scrutiny of providers.
- Privacy considerations beyond the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, including Federal Trade Commission requirements;
- How to prepare for the Health Breach Notification Rule;
- The ins and outs of advertising telehealth, including claims, endorsements and social media;
- Strategies for engaging with users in the digital environment; and
- Increased fraud enforcement.
On September 6, 2021, New York Governor Kathy Hochul designated COVID-19 as a “highly contagious communicable disease that presents a serious risk of harm to the public health” under the New York Health and Essential Rights (HERO) Act. This designation means that all New York employers must activate the workplace safety plans that they developed under the HERO Act standards. The workplace safety plan can be based on the model plan jointly developed by the New York State Department of Health and the New York State Department of Labor. Employers can also develop their own plans, subject to certain minimum requirements.
Companies curious about a major airline’s unvaccinated healthcare premium surcharge are discovering that it may be too complex to copy. The airline recently announced that unvaccinated employees enrolled in the company’s health plan would see a $200 monthly surcharge. In this Bloomberg Law article, McDermott Partner Judith Wethall said the compliance hurdles are “tricky and kind of dilute the message.”
As companies consider whether or not to introduce vaccine mandates for employees, there is interest among some employers to increase health care premiums or impose financial penalties on employees who refuse vaccination. One major airline, for example, recently announced that unvaccinated employees enrolled in the company’s health plan would see a $200 monthly surcharge. However, according to McDermott Partner Judith Wethall in The Hill, financial penalties for the unvaccinated are legally complicated, and vaccine mandates likely pose less regulatory issues for employers to impose.
On August 13, 2021, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) updated its COVID-19 guidance documents for employers in all industries. The new recommendations echo those published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on July 27, 2021, and build upon OSHA’s healthcare industry requirements.
In some of its most powerful language yet (and stopping just short of an absolute requirement), OSHA “strongly encourages” employers to provide paid time off to workers for the time it takes for them to get vaccinated and recover from any side effects.