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EEOC Provides Updated Guidance Regarding Employer COVID-19 Vaccine Policies

On May 28, 2021, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission updated its guidance regarding employer COVID-19 vaccination policies. The new guidance provides much-needed clarification of expectations for employers seeking to promote workplace safety and prevent the spread of COVID-19, including discussion of mandatory vaccination policies, voluntary vaccination incentives, and accommodation of employees based on disability or sincerely held religious beliefs. The full text of the update is found in Section K of the EEOC’s COVID Q&A document. You can also learn more about these and other developments from BMD's Bryan Meek and Monica Andress through the Employment Law After Hours YouTube channel, available here.

Can employers require employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes, the EEOC guidance explains that federal laws do not prevent an employer from requiring employees who are physically in the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19.

Must employers make any exceptions to a mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policy?

Yes, in certain cases, employees may be entitled to reasonable accommodation due to a disability or a sincerely held religious belief, unless the accommodation imposes an undue hardship on the employer.

If an employee refuses to get the COVID-19 vaccine based on a disability, the employer should engage in an interactive process to determine if accommodation is appropriate. If the employee has a qualifying disability that prevents vaccination, the employer should evaluate whether the unvaccinated employee is a direct threat to the safety of the workplace. This is a case-by-case determination that should consider such factors as the level of community spread of COVID-19 at that time, whether the employee works alone or in close proximity to others, frequency and duration of interactions with others, the extent of vaccination or mask-wearing in the workplace, and space available for social distancing.

If the unvaccinated employee poses a direct safety threat, the employer should then consider whether a reasonable accommodation would eliminate the threat. Accommodations could include permitting the unvaccinated employee to wear a face mask, social distance from coworkers and others, work a modified shift, get periodic tests for COVID-19, telework, or accept a reassignment to a different position that alleviates the risk. If reasonable accommodation will not eliminate the direct safety threat, or it otherwise imposes an undue hardship based on cost or other factors, the employer would not need to provide an accommodation to the employee. 

Can employers provide incentives that encourage employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes, employers may offer incentives, including monetary incentives, to encourage employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Note that if the vaccine is administered directly by the employer or its agent, the incentive must not be "so substantial as to be coercive." This limitation does not apply if the employee gets the vaccine on their own from a third party.

Can employers request documentation of vaccination from employees in connection with an incentive program?

Yes, an employer can make voluntary vaccination incentives contingent on the employee providing documentation verifying that they received the COVID-19 vaccine.
 

What other requirements should employers keep in mind related to COVID-19 vaccination policies?

  • Any documentation or information regarding an employee's vaccination, like any other medical information, must be kept confidential and stored separately from the employee’s personnel files.
  • Employer vaccine policies must comply with federal nondiscrimination laws, and such policies should not treat groups of employees differently based on protected categories, including race, national origin, color, sex, religion, age, or disability.
  • If an employee is fully vaccinated and still requests an accommodation because of risks related to COVID-19 (e.g., due to being immunocompromised), the employer should treat it like any other accommodation request, engage in the interactive process, and explore potential reasonable accommodations.

The BMD Employment and Labor Law Practice Group will keep you updated as further developments arise, and we are available to assist if you have questions regarding COVID-19 employment policies and practices.

For more information, contact Labor and Employment Attorney Russell Rendall at rtrendall@bmdllc.com or (216) 658-2205.

The Masks Are Back: New OSHA Regulations for Healthcare Employers

Employment Law After Hours is back with a News Break Episode. Yesterday, OSHA published new rules for healthcare facilities, including hospitals, home health employers, nursing homes, ambulance companies, and assisted living facilities. These new rules are very cumbersome, requiring mask wearing for all employees, even those that are vaccinated. The only exception is for fully vaccinated employees (2 weeks post final dose) who are in a "well-defined" area where there is no reasonable expectation that any person with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 will be present.

New OSHA Guidance for Workplaces Not Covered by the Healthcare Emergency Temporary Standard

On June 10, 2021, OSHA issued an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) for occupational exposure to COVID-19, but it applies only to healthcare and healthcare support service workers. For a detailed summary of the ETS applicable to the healthcare industry, please visit https://youtu.be/vPyXmKwOzsk. All employers not subject to the ETS should review OSHA’s contemporaneously released, updated Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace. The new Guidance essentially leaves intact OSHA’s earlier guidance, but only for unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers (“at-risk” meaning vaccinated or unvaccinated workers with immunocompromising conditions). For fully vaccinated workers, OSHA defers to CDC Guidance for Fully Vaccinated People, which advises that most fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing masks or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, or local laws or individual business policies.

Employer Liability for COVID-19 Vaccine Side Effects

As employers encourage or require employees to obtain a COVID-19 vaccine, they should be aware of OSHA recording obligations and potential workers’ compensation liability. Though OSHA has yet to revise its COVID-19 guidance in response to the latest CDC recommendations, OSHA has revised its position regarding the recording of injury or illness resulting from the vaccine. Until now, OSHA required an employer to record an adverse reaction when the vaccine was required for employees and the injury or illness otherwise met the recording criteria (work-related, a new case, and meets one or more of the general recording criteria). OSHA has reversed course and announced that it will not require recording adverse reactions until at least May 2022, irrespective of whether the employer requires the vaccine as a condition of employment. In its revised COVID-19 FAQs, OSHA states:

The New Rule 1.510 - Radical Change for Summary Judgement Procedure in Florida

In civil litigation, where both sides participate actively, trial is usually required at the end of a long, expensive case to determine a winner and a loser. In federal and most state courts, however, there are a few procedural shortcuts by which parties can seek to prevail in advance of trial, saving time, money and annoyance. The most common of these is the “motion for summary judgment”: a request to the court by one side for judgment before trial, generally on the basis that the evidence available reflects that a win for that party is legally inevitable and thus required. Effective May 1, 2021, summary judgment procedure in Florida has radically changed.

Vacating, Modifying or Correcting an Arbitration Award Under R.C. 2711.13: Three-Month Limitation Maximum; Not Guaranteed Amount of Time

In a recent decision, the Supreme Court of Ohio held that neither R.C. 2711.09 nor R.C. 2711.13 requires a court to wait three months after an arbitration award is issued before confirming the award. R.C. 2711.13 provides that “after an award in an arbitration proceeding is made, any party to the arbitration may file a motion in the court of common pleas for an order vacating, modifying, or correcting the award.” Any such motion to vacate, modify, or correct an award “must be served upon the adverse party or his attorney within three months after the award is delivered to the parties in interest.” In BST Ohio Corporation et al. v. Wolgang, the Court held the three-month period set forth in R.C. 2711.13 is not a guaranteed time period in which to file a motion to vacate, modify, or correct an arbitration award. 2021-Ohio-1785.