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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.

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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.

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Federal Appeals Court Temporarily Blocks New OSHA Rule

On November 6, 2021, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit temporarily blocked the Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) issued on November 4, 2021, by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requiring employers with 100 or more employees to implement COVID-19 vaccination policies. The ETS is stayed until further notice, halting its implementation temporarily. While the future of the ETS remains uncertain, employers may want to continue preparing for the ETS as if it is going to take effect while litigation continues.

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OSHA and CMS Vaccination Rules Released: Here Are the Details

On November 4, 2021, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) unveiled its Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) to protect employees of large employers in all industries from COVID-19. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) simultaneously released its Omnibus COVID-19 Health Care Staff Vaccination Interim Final Rule, applicable to most Medicare- and Medicaid-certified providers and suppliers, which must be met to continue participation in Medicare and Medicaid programs. Finally, the White House announced that its previously published federal contractor vaccination mandate would be updated to move the compliance deadline from December 8, 2021, to January 4, 2022.

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Business Groups Want to Have a Say in Biden’s Vaccine Requirement

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.

In an article published in The Hill, McDermott Partner Michelle Strowhiro said some employers may decide to scrap the testing alternative altogether.

“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.

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Deadline for NY Employers: Workplace Safety Plan Due October 6, 2021

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.

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COVID-19 Laws and Regulations: A Midyear Update

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?'”

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OSHA’s COVID-19 Requirements for Healthcare Employers Take Effect

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.

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