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Monkeypox Declared a National Public Health Emergency

On August 4, 2022, the Biden administration declared monkeypox a public health emergency (PHE), a step that will allow the federal government to work with more agility to combat the spreading outbreak, including via expedited vaccine distribution and expanded testing.

The PHE declaration follows the recent appointment of federal officials to head up the monkeypox response team, including Robert Fenton of the Federal Emergency Management Agency as White House national monkeypox response coordinator, and Dr. Demetre Daskalakis of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as White House national monkeypox response deputy coordinator.

The administration also began holding what will be a recurring weekly briefing with congressional staff on August 4. A press release from the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on the PHE declaration can be found here.

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Monkeypox in the Workplace: Key Considerations for Employers

As of July 26, 2022, there are 3,591 confirmed cases of monkeypox in the United States, according to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, and the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General has declared the multi-country monkeypox outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). With much about the potential impact and scope of monkeypox still unknown, employers should consider taking proactive steps now, as may be appropriate for their workforce, to enhance and reinforce the safety protocols already in place from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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OSHA Announces Plan to ‘Expand Its Presence’ in Certain Healthcare Facilities Treating COVID-19 Patients

Between March 9, 2022, and June 9, 2022, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will “expand its presence” in hospitals and skilled nursing facilities that treat COVID-19 patients and that were previously cited or issued Hazard Alert Letters for alleged COVID-19 violations. OSHA’s stated purpose is to “target[] high-hazard healthcare facilities” to “verify and assess . . . compliance actions taken” by employers to rectify prior allegations related to COVID-19 safety violations. The initiative is focusing on employers’ “readiness to address any ongoing or future COVID-19 surges.”

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Four Discrimination Questions Employers Have About COVID-19

As the world enters the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers have gained a greater understanding about the virus’ relationship with US anti-discrimination laws. With the inevitable rise of future variants and long-haul COVID-19 cases, however, businesses are still navigating murky waters. In this Law360 article, McDermott Partner Lindsay Ditlow offers perspective about worker accommodation requests and what they mean for employers.

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Agencies Clarify How Employers Can Charge COVID-19 Vaccine Premium Incentives

US employers have grown increasingly interested in identifying incentives that increase COVID-19 vaccination among employees. The US Departments of Labor, Treasury and Human and Human Services recently issued guidance regarding the application of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) wellness rules to vaccine-related premium surcharges and discounts, clarifying that employers may charge vaccine premium incentives if they adhere to the requirements of activity-only health-contingent programs. In this Employee Benefit Plan Review article, McDermott Partner Judith Wethall and McDermott Associate Sarah G. Raaii outline what this HIPPA guidance means for employers.

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Vaccine Exemption Requests Put Legal Departments in Tricky Spot

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.

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Pfizer’s Full Approval Triggers New Vaccine Mandates

The full US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has led to vaccine mandates by both governments and businesses. More companies will implement their own vaccine requirements in light of the FDA approval, according to McDermott partner Michelle Strowhiro in this The Hill article.

“What employers are trying to balance right now is implementing the right safety standards for their workforce while also being cognizant of the fact that the labor market is so difficult and many employers are already struggling with having the right number of people on staff,” Strowhiro said.

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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.

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Verifying Vaccination Status: What Employers Need to Know

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.”

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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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