On February 18, President Biden announced that the COVID-19 National Emergency would continue beyond March 1, 2022, for up to another year. As a result of the continuing National Emergency, the “tolling” of several important deadlines applicable to health and welfare plans, as well as qualified retirement plans, will also remain in effect. This means plan sponsors and administrators should continue to apply these deadlines to affected individuals on a participant-by-participant basis for the foreseeable future.
The past few years have been unprecedented for everyone, but employers have faced particular challenges in trying to keep their employees healthy and able to continue working while simultaneously navigating a significant amount of new – and often confusing – legislation, mandates, and executive orders. Due to these challenges, the focus on best practices for day-to-day management of employees has fallen by the wayside for many employers. However, as we approach the two-year mark since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and are beginning to see some light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, now is a great time for employers to revisit these best practices that will enable them to better manage their workforces and reduce the risk of employment-related litigation.
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.
On February 4, President Biden signed the Executive Order on Use of Project Labor Agreements for Federal Construction Projects, which mandates, with limited exceptions, that contractors and subcontractors working on federal construction projects valued at $35 million or more agree that for that project, the companies will “become a party to a project labor agreement [PLA] with one or more appropriate labor organizations.” A prior EO issued by President Obama, which the recent EO drew liberally from, encouraged the use of labor agreements on large construction projects, but we are not aware of any prior EO mandating their use.
The vaccine mandates President Biden announced on September 9 have not aged well. Two are enjoined nationwide and a skeptical Supreme Court so undermined one that the government withdrew it, at least for the immediate future. Only one, an interim final rule applicable to employees at healthcare facilities receiving Medicare and Medicaid funds, is still standing. And it is questionable whether that mandate will remain in place once it becomes clear what the impact on operations will be on attrition caused by requiring personnel at those medical facilities to be vaccinated irrespective of their personal objections (those employees can apply for medical or religious accommodations, but the exceptions are narrow).
In 2021, we saw the continuation of restrictions and limitations on non-compete laws at the federal and state levels. On July 9, President Biden signed an executive order advocating for the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) authority to prevent unfair non-compete practices in the workplace. Additionally, Colorado, Illinois, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, D.C. all modified or enacted new restrictions on non-competes, further indicating a broader legal trend toward limiting the power of employer form agreements and practices.
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.
Over the past two years, the pandemic has forced employers to navigate in unchartered waters. The focus on health and safety, managing a remote workforce, and staying abreast of the ever-changing COVID-19-related legislation and guidance has left in-house counsel and human resources professionals with little time to focus on many of the fundamental steps that are essential to proactively and successfully managing 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.
Join us for the first of a three-part virtual seminar in which Bass, Berry & Sims labor & employment attorneys will address best practices across a range of topics that continue to impact day-to-day operations in the workplace and cause potential risk exposure for employers.
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 Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced it will enforce the COVID-19 Health Care Staff Vaccination Interim Final Rule in the 25 states, District of Columbia, and territories in which the healthcare vaccine rule has not been enjoined by a court. Medicare or Medicaid providers or suppliers in the following states are required to comply with the CMS vaccinate mandate: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.
Enforcement will be made along a modified timeline. The new deadline for Phase 1 implementation (first dose or one-dose vaccine, unless there is an approved disability or religious accommodation) is January 27, 2022. The deadline for Phase 2 implementation (full vaccination, unless there is an approved disability or religious accommodation) is February 28, 2022. Interim Final Rule and CMS guidance can be found here. Surveyors will begin surveying for compliance with the vaccine requirement beginning January 27, 2022.
Medicare- and Medicaid-certified providers and suppliers in the following states are not required to undertake any efforts to implement or enforce the CMS vaccination mandate at this time due to ongoing litigation enjoining enforcement: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming.
If you have any questions about this latest development related to the vaccine mandate, please contact the author.