On April 21, 2022, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s (Cal/OSHA) Standards Board approved the Third Readoption of the state’s COVID-19 Prevention Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS). Per Governor Gavin Newsom’s Executive Order N-23-21, the Third Readoption will remain in effect for no longer than December 31, 2022. The Third Readoption makes some additional material changes and clarifications, including acceptable return-to-work criteria, elimination of certain cleaning and social distancing requirements, and creation of a “returned case” category of workers recovered from COVID-19. Employers in California should update their COVID-19 ETS policies to ensure continued compliance with Cal/OSHA’s changes in the Third Readoption.
OSHA Reaffirms Arrival of Permanent Healthcare Industry COVID-19 Standard
On March 22, 2022, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced a limited reopening of the rulemaking record for the COVID-19 emergency temporary standard for the healthcare industry, originally published on June 21, 2021 (the Healthcare ETS). OSHA will hold an informal public hearing to gather additional information from healthcare industry stakeholders. With the announcement, OSHA reaffirmed its plans to publish a permanent COVID-19 safety standard (i.e., regulation) for the healthcare industry later this year.
After High Court Loss, OSHA Looks to Other COVID-Curbing Means
The US Supreme Court’s January ruling that stayed enforcement of the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) shot-or-test mandate may limit some employers from introducing their own vaccination, testing or mask requirements. However, in this Bloomberg Law article, McDermott Partner Michelle Strowhiro said employers might still want to consider implementing portions of the standard—so long as state and local limits let them.
OSHA Hints at Permanent COVID-19 Standard, Withdraws Vax-or-Test ETS
On January 25, 2022, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced that it would withdraw its controversial “vax-or-test” Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), which required large employers to impose vaccination or testing requirements upon their employees. The withdrawal will be effective as soon as the announcement is published in the Federal Register, which is scheduled to occur on January 26, 2022.
Supreme Court OKs CMS Vaccine Mandate but Blocks OSHA Rule
On January 13, 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States released two emergency opinions that change the landscape of the three federal vaccine rules. In summary:
- A 5-4 Court majority let the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) enforce its vaccine mandate nationwide, impacting specified healthcare facilities.
- A 6-3 majority blocked the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) from enforcing its vax-or-test Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) applicable to large employers.
- The third federal vaccine rule—the federal contractor vaccine mandate—remains subject to multiple legal challenges and, at this time, the government is blocked from enforcing the mandate nationwide. The Court has not yet weighed in on this mandate.
Federal Vaccine Mandates Are Back in Play (For Now)
The courts continue to move the vaccine mandate goalposts on employers as dozens of legal challenges work their way through the courts. The latest developments are major game changers for employers. As of today, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) vaccine-or-test rule is enforceable nationwide, and the US Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Interim Final Rule (IFR) mandating vaccination, subject to exemptions, is enforceable in 25 states.
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.
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.
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.
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.