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COVID-19 Vaccine Exemptions as Easy as Copy and Paste

The federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate has spurred an uptick in religious exemption requests. In this Politico article, McDermott Partner Michelle Strowhiro explains how some workers are copying and pasting exemption documents from anti-vaccine websites.

“The religious exemption is not a tough standard for a worker to submit,” Strowhiro said. “There can be a level of people making things up, unfortunately.”

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New York State Ends COVID-19 HERO Act Designation

On March 17, 2022, New York State’s Commissioner of Health ended the designation of COVID-19 as an airborne infectious disease that presents a serious risk of harm to public health under the New York Health and Essential Rights (HERO) Act. As of that date, private sector employers in New York State are no longer required to implement their workforce safety plans.

Read more here.




COVID-19 Response in Jeopardy amid Congressional Inaction

Congressional inaction may prevent a more robust federal government COVID-19 response, according to this Washington Post article. A $15 billion COVID-19 funding bill recently collapsed in Congress, potentially crippling testing, treatment and vaccine access. McDermott+Consulting’s Rodney Whitlock said not enough “spadework” was done to get compromises across the finish line.

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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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California to Renew COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave for 2022

On January 25, 2022, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that his office and state lawmakers had reached an agreement to reimplement a version of California’s COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave through September 30, 2022. It is expected that the state legislature will move quickly to finalize and vote on legislation to effectuate this statewide paid leave obligation.

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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.

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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.

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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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Vaccine Requirements in the Workplace

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.

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Companies Eye Financial Penalties for Unvaccinated Workers

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.

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