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.
President Biden has announced a series of measures aimed at combatting the COVID-19 pandemic which will require certain employers to set forth mandatory vaccination requirements. These measures direct the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force (Task Force) to set forth specific guidance, which we are still awaiting. However, here is what we know now:
OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard
According to President Biden’s September 9, 2021 briefing, OSHA has been tasked with developing an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) requiring companies with 100 or more employees to require employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 or be tested on a weekly basis. The ETS will also require these companies to provide paid time off for the time it takes workers to get vaccinated or to recover if they are under the weather post-vaccination. The fines for violating this rule are reported to be $14,000 per violation.
Join us for a virtual seminar in which the firm’s labor & employment and employee benefits attorneys will discuss recent COVID-19-related announcements from the CDC, FDA and other relevant agencies, and the implications they have on how employers should structure policies and procedures moving forward.
In this session, we will provide guidance for navigating the…
In response to President Biden’s Executive Order issued on January 21, 2021, directing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to take action to reduce the risk that workers may contract COVID-19 in the workplace, OSHA has issued an emergency temporary standard (ETS) to set forth guidelines to protect healthcare workers.
Effective June 21, 2021, the ETS applies only to settings where any employee provides healthcare services or healthcare support services. The masking, distancing, and barrier requirements under the ETS do not apply to settings with well-defined areas where all employees are fully vaccinated and there is no reasonable expectation that any person with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 will be present. OSHA has provided a flowchart to determine which workplaces are affected.
Develop and implement a COVID-19 plan: Employers are required to develop and implement a plan to combat COVID-19. This plan must be in writing if there are more than 10 employees. Employers must conduct hazard assessments for each specific workplace to identify potential COVID-19 hazards and designate a safety coordinator with the authority to ensure compliance with all aspects of the plan.
Limit and monitor points of entry: In workplaces where direct patient care is provided, employers must limit and monitor points of entry. Patients, clients, residents, and other visitors must also be screened and triaged. Other patient management strategies must be implemented per CDC guidance.
I recently authored an article for the Nashville Business Journal discussing strategies to overcome risks for employers opting to continue to operate with a remote or hybrid workforce.
Telework introduces an increased risk of noncompliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act’s requirement that all non-exempt employees be paid for all hours worked, including any overtime hours, which is more difficult to monitor with dispersed employees. “Employers with remote workforces should clearly outline a timekeeping policy regarding the accurate recording of all time worked, and train employees on those expectations, including a requirement that remote workers obtain advance approval from their supervisor before working any overtime,” I stated in the article.
Another threat to monitor includes increased risk of network privacy and security loss. Employers should update security protocols, including employee training on remote access security and password protection to prevent unauthorized access to sensitive information. Investment in company-issued equipment with preferred antivirus software is also a crucial protective measure.…
Continue Reading Strategies for Employers Operating with a Hybrid Workforce
The EEOC has updated its guidance “What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws.” The new guidance clarifies that employers may offer incentives to employees to voluntarily provide documentation or other confirmation that they have received the COVID-19 vaccination from a third-party (i.e., doctor, pharmacy, health agency or other healthcare provider).
The EEOC has confirmed that requesting this documentation is not a disability-related inquiry covered by the ADA and is not an unlawful request for genetic information under GINA, but continues to caution employers to keep this vaccination information confidential pursuant to the ADA. However, the EEOC has distinguished incentives offered to employees for voluntarily receiving a vaccination administered by the employer or its agent. In that case, the EEOC cautions employers against offering incentives that are so substantial to become coercive, as “vaccinations require employees to answer pre-vaccination disability-related screen questions, [and] a very large incentive could make employees feel pressured to disclose protected medical information.”
The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) extends tax credits to those employers who voluntarily choose to provide paid leave benefits to employees under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).
As you may recall, beginning January 1, 2021, employers with fewer than 500 employees could voluntarily provide paid leave to employees according to the FFCRA for certain qualifying reasons and receive tax credits for the paid leave. The ARPA has extended employers’ eligibility for tax credits through September 30, 2021. However, the ARPA contains new non-discrimination rules stating that FFCRA tax credits will not be made available to employers who discriminate in favor of highly compensated employees, full-time employees, or employees on the basis of tenure.
The ARPA also expanded the list of qualifying reasons for taking paid leave under the FFCRA.
Join us for a virtual seminar in which Bass, Berry & Sims labor & employment attorneys will address a broad range of recent employment law developments and anticipated issues significant to employers and provide practical guidance for understanding the associated impacts and legal challenges.
Topics covered during the webinar will include:
- Return to work update
Plan sponsors and plan fiduciaries, and vendors, advisors and other service providers: Take notice! The end of the special COVID-19 “Outbreak Period,” which began on March 1, 2020 and continues to apply, is nowhere in sight based on recent guidance from the Department of Labor (DOL) in the form of a Disaster Relief Notice (New Guidance).
This means that the “tolling” of a number of participant and plan deadlines did not end on February 28, 2021, as most plan sponsors and others had assumed based on prior guidance. In fact, for some participants, the tolling period could extend far out into the future. In addition, the new guidance reminds plan sponsors and plan fiduciaries of the “guiding principle” for administering employee benefit plans – act reasonably, prudently and in the interest of workers and their families. Good faith compliance with the new guidance will likely be judged on this standard.
Pursuant to joint guidance issued on May 4, 2020 (Joint Guidance), the DOL and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) suspended or “tolled” a number of participant and plan deadlines. The “tolled” deadlines include:
- HIPAA Special Enrollment Notice Obligations – the 30-day period (or 60-day period, as applicable) to request special enrollment in a group health plan.
- COBRA Notices, Elections and Premium Payments – the periods for individuals to notify the plan of certain COBRA events (e.g., a qualifying event, such as a divorce or child losing eligibility), the 60-day period for electing COBRA continuation coverage, and the 45-day (initial) and 30-day (monthly) deadlines for making COBRA premium payments.
- Claims and Appeal Procedures – the date by which an individual may file a claim for benefits or an appeal of an adverse benefit determination (this applies to all ERISA-both welfare and retirement-plans).