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Mary Leigh Pirtle helps employers navigate complicated and evolving employment law issues. She counsels clients on a wide range of day-to-day employment matters, and regularly conducts onsite internal investigations into allegations of employee misconduct. With experience in both traditional labor and employment litigation, Mary Leigh has represented employers against claims ranging from wage and hour violations to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) violations.

Over the past two years, the pandemic has forced employers to navigate unchartered waters. The focus on health and safety, managing a remote workforce, and staying abreast of the evolving COVID-19-related guidance has left in-house counsel and human resources professionals with little time to focus on the fundamental steps that are essential to proactively and successfully manage employee issues. While the challenges associated with COVID-19 remain at the forefront of employers’ concerns, it is time to return to familiar waters and revisit some of the best HR-related practices. We are excited to offer the second installment of this three-part series both in-person and virtually, via webinar. For those local to the Nashville area, we invite you to join us on April 28 for the in-person presentation where we will address best practices across a range of topics, including:

  • Proper complaint intake and investigation planning practices.
  • Best practices for conducting employee interviews.
  • Managing the aftermath of the investigation, including potential disciplinary actions.


Continue Reading [REGISTER NOW] Labor & Employment Law Update: Returning to Familiar Waters – Best Practices for Conducting Effective Workplace Investigations

As employees are increasingly returning to the office, a new amendment to existing Tennessee law regarding vaccination further complicates the landscape for employers concerning COVID-19 vaccine mandates.  See the full text of the amendment here.

Chapter 2 of Title 14 of the Tennessee Code, passed in November 2021 by the Tennessee Legislature, prohibits a private business, governmental entity, school, or local education agency from compelling or otherwise taking “adverse action” against a person to compel proof of having received a COVID-19 vaccination if the person objects to being vaccinated “for any reason.”  See TCA 14-2-102(a).  In other words, a private business in Tennessee cannot take adverse action against a person based on their vaccination status.  As you may recall, Title 14 provided private businesses with an opportunity to request an exemption from this blanket restriction on their ability to require proof of vaccination by requesting the comptroller exclude the entity from the purview of this law.

Continue Reading New Amendment to the Tennessee COVID-19 Bill Provides Medical and Religious Exemptions to Certain Tennessee Employees Subject to Mandatory Vaccination Policies

Over the past year, the Biden administration has issued a number of labor and employment executive orders applicable to government contractors. Some of those requirements are updates to Obama-era executive orders, while others are new. Together, these obligations, which include an almost 50% increase to the applicable minimum wage, can have a significant impact on contractors.

For any government contractors that have questions about these labor and employment changes, we hope you can join us for an overview of these recent developments.

Continue Reading [WEBINAR] What Was Old is New Again – Government Contractor Labor & Employment Updates

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision, has again stayed Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) attempt at enforcing its COVID-19 Vaccine and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), which OSHA first published on November 5, 2021. This matter will now return to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit for further proceedings. But, for now, large employers across the nation are relieved of OSHA’s January 10 and February 9 compliance deadlines.

The high court determined that the applicants were likely to succeed on the merits of their claim that the Secretary lacked authority to impose the mandate set forth in the ETS, concluding that the Secretary’s order for 84 million Americans to either obtain a COVID-19 vaccine or undergo weekly medical testing at their own expense was no “everyday exercise of federal power,” and instead, was a “significant encroachment into the lives—and health—of a vast number of employees.”

In finding that the Occupational Safety & Health Act did not plainly authorize the ETS, the Supreme Court determined that the standards outlined in the ETS were intended to regulate a broad public health measure, exceeding the agency’s authority to regulate workplace safety standards. The majority opinion noted that while COVID-19 was certainly present in the workplace, it was not limited to simply an occupational hazard and could also be spread in homes, schools, during sporting events, and in other places where individuals gather. As stated in the decision, “Permitting OSHA to regulate the hazards of daily life – simply because most Americans have jobs and face those same risks while on the clock – would significantly expand OSHA’s regulatory authority without clear congressional authorization.”

Continue Reading U.S. Supreme Court Halts OSHA’s COVID-19 Vaccine and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard

On January 7, the Supreme Court heard an oral argument regarding the applications for an emergency stay of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) as well as the regulations issued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. As we recently reported here, pending a ruling to the contrary by the Supreme Court, the ETS is currently in effect in the 29 states operating without a state-run OSHA Plan.

The remaining 21 states with approved State Plans must first adopt the ETS or a standard that is at least as effective. It is our understanding that federal OSHA has signaled to the State Plans that it expects those agencies to do so by January 24. Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration (TOSHA), which operates Tennessee’s state-run plan, has now updated its website announcing that it will not take any action toward adoption pending the Supreme Court’s ruling on the legality of the ETS:

“Leadership for the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration (TOSHA) continues to closely monitor legal developments regarding the federal government’s proposed mandate requiring COVID-19 vaccinations or frequent testing for employees at Tennessee’s largest employers. With the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s decision to delay enforcement of its Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) until February, TOSHA will wait for the United States Supreme Court ruling on the legality of the ETS before taking any further action.”

Continue Reading TOSHA Will Delay Vaccine Enforcement and Await Supreme Court Ruling

UPDATE: The U.S. Supreme Court has announced it will hold a special session on January 7, 2022 and will hear oral argument on the legal challenges to the OSHA COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard as well as the regulations issued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services requiring vaccination for certain healthcare staff.  We will provide additional updates as they become available.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has dissolved the Fifth Circuit’s stay of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS).

In a 2-1 decision issued on December 17, the Sixth Circuit determined that OSHA did not exceed its authority in issuing the ETS, concluding that “[l]ongstanding precedent addressing the plain language of the ACT, OSHA’s interpretation of the statute, and examples of direct Congressional authorization following the enactment of the OSH  Act all show that OSHA’s authority includes protection against infectious diseases that present a significant risk in the workplace, without regard to exposure to that same hazard in some form outside the workplace.”

The Sixth Circuit went on to conclude that the plaintiffs could not show irreparable harm in light of COVID-19 still posing an emergency demonstrated by a recent rapid increase in COVID-19 infections and the emergence of the delta and omicron variants, and ultimately that the plaintiffs could not establish a likelihood of success on the merits warranting the Fifth Circuit’s stay.
Continue Reading Sixth Circuit Dissolves Stay of OSHA ETS Requiring Vaccination and Testing for Large Employers

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has published the long-awaited Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) as directed by President Biden in his September 9 COVID-19 Action Plan – Path Out of the Pandemic.

The ETS will take effect as soon as it is published in the Federal Register and sets forth the following two options for employers with over 100 employees:

  1. A mandatory vaccination policy.
  2. A written policy allowing employees to undergo ongoing testing and masking instead of vaccination.

Employers are required to comply with all aspects of the ETS by December 5, except for the testing program for those employers who choose to provide this option to employees.  In that case, employees must either be fully vaccinated or submit proof of testing by January 4, 2022.

We break down the details below.

Which Employers Are Covered?

All employers with a total of 100 or more (full-time or part-time) employees at any time the ETS is in effect are covered.  The ETS does not apply to workplaces subject to the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force COVID-19 Workplace Safety: Guidance for Federal Contractors and Subcontractors or settings where an employee provides healthcare services or healthcare support services when subject to the requirements of § 1910.502.

Continue Reading OSHA Releases COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard: Here’s What It Means for Employers

As contractors and agencies scramble to comply with the government contractor vaccine mandate, there seems to be growing confusion over whether contractors or federal agencies are responsible for evaluating whether contractor employees working at government sites are entitled to medical or religious accommodations. In some cases, agencies tell contractors that the government, not the

On September 9, President Biden issued Executive Order 14042 requiring that federal contractors comply with forthcoming COVID-19 workplace safety guidance. That guidance, which was issued on September 24, is remarkably broad, requiring that employees working directly on government contracts, in connection with government contracts, or in the same facility as an employee in the first

On September 24, following President Biden’s September 9 Executive Order, Ensuring Adequate COVID Safety Protocols for Federal Contractors, the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force (Task Force) issued new guidance on COVID-19 safety protocols applicable to federal contractors and subcontractors. It is notable that the guidance does not apply to grants.

Before the guidance was released, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget determined, as required by the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act that compliance with those measures laid out in the guidance will promote economy and efficiency in federal contracting. This determination was met because decreasing the spread of COVID-19 “will decrease worker absence, reduce labor costs, and improve the efficiency of contractors and subcontractors performing work for the Federal Government.”  There is no indication that the director considered the impacts of attrition or costs on businesses to administer these requirements.

Breakdown of Requirements under New Executive Order

These requirements, in addition to any requirements applicable in a federal workplace, apply to contractors and subcontractors with a “covered contract.”  The obligations that the guidelines require to be part of a soon-to-be draft contract clause include:

  • By December 8, 2021, “covered contractor employees,” regardless of prior COVID-19 infection and associated immunity must be “fully vaccinated” for COVID-19. This means that at least two weeks have passed after they have received the last required dose of an approved vaccine, except in limited circumstances where an employee is legally entitled to an accommodation.

    Many contractors have questions regarding when an employee may be legally entitled to an accommodation.  The guidance provides that this may be the case “because of a disability (which would include medical conditions) or because of a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance.”  It continues, “[r]equests for ‘medical accommodation’ or ‘medical exceptions’ should be treated as required for a disability accommodation.”

    After December, all covered contractor employees must be fully vaccinated by the first day of the period of performance on a newly awarded contract and by the first day of the performance period on an exercised option or extended or renewed contract when the clause has been incorporated into the covered contract.  This also applies to contractor employees working from home on a covered contract.

  • Compliance by covered contractor employees and visitors with published CDC guidance for masking and physical distancing is required while in a “covered contractor workplace.”  This does not apply to covered contractor employees working from home.  It does, however, require that in areas of “high or substantial community transmission,” even fully vaccinated individuals wear a mask in indoor settings.  To determine the level of community spread, covered contractors must check the CDC COVID-19 Data Tracker County View website.
  • Designation by covered contractors of a COVID-19 workplace safety coordinator at covered contractors’ workplaces whose primary duties appear to be communicating the required safety protocols to all covered employees and visitors and confirming compliance by reviewing the required vaccine documentation.  COVID-19 workplace safety protocols may comprise some or all of this person’s regular duties.


Continue Reading Contractors, You Will Get the Jab!