LIEB BLOG

Legal Media Analysts

Showing posts with label vaccine. Show all posts
Showing posts with label vaccine. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Employment Laws - Year End Review

As the year comes to a close, we want to remind employers of the following recent laws, regulations and guidance related to the workplace, many of which are currently in effect or take effect early next year.


1) Vaccine/Mask Mandates


  • NYC Vaccine Mandate

NYC, via an Order of the Commissioner of Health and Mental Hygiene, now requires that all employers ensure that its workers are vaccinated against COVID-19. All private sector workers had to receive their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by December 27, 2021 and a 2nd dose 45 days later. Employers are further required to verify and keep a record of each worker's proof of vaccination. Workers may seek a reasonable accommodation for a qualifying disability or sincerely held religious belief. Violators may be penalized $1,000 per violation.


  • OSHA (Federal) Mask Mandate

Citations (with large monetary penalties) for non-compliance with the OSHA vaccine mandate for all employers with 100+ employees is scheduled to begin on January 10, 2022. OSHA's mandate requires that qualifying employers ensure that all employees "be vaccinated or wear a protective face covering and take weekly tests." While the Sixth Circuit upheld the vaccine mandate, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the vaccine mandate on January 7, 2021. Stay tuned to our blog for updates.


  • NYS Mask Mandate 

Governor Hochul's statewide mandate requiring face mask/covering at all indoor public places is currently effective until January 15, 2022 (to be re-evaluated after this date). The mandate does not apply to indoor public areas that require proof of vaccination as a condition of entry. However, a business cannot "mix and match" i.e. permit individuals who show proof of vaccination to enter mask free while permitting those who do not present proof of vaccination to enter wearing a mask. Either no one is permitted entry that cannot provide proof of vaccination or everyone must wear a mask (whether vaccinated or not).


2. New York State HERO Act

On May 5, 2021, the NY HERO Act was signed into law in order to protect employees against exposure and disease during an airborne infectious disease outbreak. The HERO Act requires employers to take certain measures to protect their employees in the event of an outbreak including implementing an exposure prevention plan. On September 6, 2021, NYS Dept. of Health designated COVID-19 as a highly contagious communicable disease, which means that employers must currently have a written airborne infectious disease policy in effect.


3. Notice of Employee Monitoring

Pursuant to a new law signed by Gov. Hochul, beginning on May 7, 2022, employers in NYS who wish to monitor or otherwise tap telephone calls, e-mails, or internet access of an employee via any electronic device or system, must give prior written notice upon hiring to all employees. Additionally, each employer must post the notice of electronic monitoring in a visible place in the office. Businesses will be subjected to fines for violations.


4. Cannabis Use in the Workplace
The Department of Labor issued guidance on Section 201-D of the NY Labor Law which prohibits an employer from discriminating against employees for using cannabis outside of the workplace on their own time. While, per the guidance, an employer may prohibit cannabis use during work hours, an employer may only discipline employees (where employee did not use cannabis during work hours) who "manifest specific articulable symptoms of impairment" due to cannabis use. For example, odor of cannabis, without more, is insufficient to discipline an employee.


5.  Whistleblower Protections

Effective January 26, 2022, employees/independent contractors will have significantly expanded whistleblower protections, pursuant to Labor Law 740, if they disclose or threaten to disclose, to a supervisor or to a public body, an activity, policy or practice of the employer, that the employee reasonably believes is in violation of law, rule or regulation or that the employee reasonably believes poses a substantial and specific danger to the public health or safety.


6. Shared Work Program

Employees, without fear of retaliation, may petition their employer, in writing in advance of a layoff or within ten (10) days after a layoff to implement a “Shared Work” program (A shared work program was formed to assist employers in avoiding layoffs and maintain trained workers during an economic downturn by allowing employees to receive partial unemployment benefits while working reduced hours).


7. Requirement to Include Minimum and Maximum Salaries for all Posted Positions

Beginning in April 2022, unless vetoed by January 14, 2022, a new law will require NYC employers to include in all job advertisements, the minimum and maximum salaries for the posted position. Positions extend to jobs, promotions, or transfer opportunities. Employers that fail to include the minimum and maximum salaries will be in violation of the NYC Human Rights Law.


8.  Mandatory Enrollment in Retirement Plan

Governor Hochul recently signed legislation that will require private sector employers who do not provide their employees with a retirement plan to automatically enroll their employees in New York State's Secure Choice Savings Plan. Employees are able to opt out of the program at any time. Stay tuned for more details as the program is developed and implemented.




Happy New Year!




Monday, December 13, 2021

Supreme Court Denies Healthcare Workers' Injunction Request on Vaccinate Mandate

The Supreme Court denied an injunctive request by healthcare workers who were required, by regulation, to be vaccinated over dissents by Justices Thomas, Gorsuch, and Alito who said the mandate violated The Free Exercise Clause. 

The basis of the request was that the regulation included exemptions for medical reasons, but not for sincere religious beliefs. According to the 20 workers seeking the injunction, "their religion teaches them to oppose abortion in any form, and because each of the currently available vaccines has depended upon abortion-derived fetal cell lines in its production or testing." 

According to New York State, the reason that no religious exemption existed was because no "sanctioned religious exemption from any organized religion" existed and in fact, religions were "encouraging the opposite." 

Interestingly, the Gorsuch dissent explains that his views on a religious exemption aren't absolute. Instead, he explains that "a State might argue, for example, that it has a compelling interest in achieving herd immunity against certain diseases in a population. It might further contend the most narrowly tailored means to achieve that interest is to restrict vaccine exemptions to a particular number divided in a nondiscriminatory manner between medical and religious objectors. With sufficient evidence to support claims like these, the State might prevail." As such, his main issue is allowing for medical related exemptions and not religious exemptions violates The Free Exercise Clause. 

Regardless, the vaccine mandate may be enforced in the healthcare setting moving forward throughout NYS.  As background, the Second Circuit had previously denied the injunction and also permitted the mandate to be enforced.


 

Tuesday, November 09, 2021

OSHA Vaccine Stay in 5th Circuit - What Does That Mean - Nothing?

On November 6, 2021, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the OSHA Vaccine Emergency Temporary Standard (which we explained in this blog). However, the Circuit set a short briefing schedule and required the Government to respond to petitioners' motion for a permanent injunction by 5:00 PM on November 8th, which they did, and the petitioners to reply by 5:00 PM on November 9th, which they did


However, the stay seems to be a splashy headline about absolutely nothing. Specifically, the Emergency Temporary Standard's compliance date is not until January 4, 2022 and it impossible that the legality of the Emergency Temporary Standard is not determined before then. More so, as the Government points out, in great detail within their response, this case will be in Multidstrict Litigation "on or about November 16—21 days before the December 7 date that petitioners allege is the earliest date that any employee could be required to receive a vaccine and 51 days before petitioners’ employees would be required to start testing." Here, the 5th Circuit choosing to go it alone, is really strange. 


Regardless, the ultimate determination in this case will likely involve a ruling as to whether the United States Code (29 USC 655(c)), permitted OSHA to issue the vaccine Emergency Temporary Standard. The applicable Code section reads:

OSHA shall provide, without regard to the requirements

of chapter 5, title 5, United States Code [5 USCS §§ 500

et seq.], for an emergency temporary standard to take

immediate effect upon publication in the Federal Register

if he determines (A) that employees are exposed to grave

danger from exposure to substances or agents determined

to be toxic or physically harmful or from new hazards, and

(B) that such emergency standard is necessary to protect

employees from such danger.

Stated otherwise, the question before the Multidistrict Court is going to be whether OSHA has power to issue the Standard. To get to that answer, it is helpful to understand that a grave danger means one that causes "incurable, permanent, or fatal consequences to workers, as opposed to easily curable and fleeting effects on their health," according to precedent. 


Now, to make matters even more interesting, even if OSHA loses on this Emergency Temporary Standard before the Multidistrict Court, it can nonetheless issue a vaccine requirement through traditional rulemaking so long as such a requirement is "'reasonably necessary or appropriate' to address a 'significant risk' of harm in the workplace." As you can see, we are just in the starting gate and this horse race hasn't yet even started. Stay tuned. 





Thursday, November 04, 2021

OSHA Releases Details/Requirements of Employer Vaccine Mandate

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA") issued its long awaited emergency temporary standard requiring all private sector employers with 100 or more employees ("covered employers") to "develop, implement, and enforce a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy." OSHA issued separate rules for federal contractors/subcontractors and health care workers.


The OSHA rules require all covered employers to ensure their employees are vaccinated by January 4, 2022 or undergo weekly testing for COVID-19 and wear face coverings while at work (There is no testing option for health care workers).


Employers do not have to require employees to get vaccinated or be tested weekly if they: 1) report to a workplace where no other individuals are present; 2) work entirely from home; or 3) work exclusively outdoors. In addition, the rules provide for a reasonable accommodation for employees who have a disability or sincerely held religious belief (where there is no undue hardship to the employer).


The rules also require covered employers to do the following:


  • obtain and preserve records of employee vaccination/testing which must be provided to employees, employee representatives and OSHA upon request;
  • provide employees with up to four (4) hours of paid time off to receive their vaccine dose(s);
  • provide reasonable time off and paid sick leave for employees to recover from side effects experienced from receiving the vaccine;
  • require employees to notify the employer when they are diagnosed with COVID-19 and remove all employees who are positive from the workplace until they meet certain criteria;
  • require all unvaccinated employees as of December 5, 2021 to wear masks (they must be vaccinated by January 4, 2022). 
  • report all COVID-19 fatalities and hospitalizations to OSHA;

Aside from the vaccination/weekly testing requirements, all of the other rules take effect on December 5, 2021. Covered employers should, thus, immediately work with counsel to begin creating and implementing a policy in compliance with these new rules. Covered employers who fail to comply with these rules can face fines in the amount of $13,653 per violation or $136,532 per violation if the conduct is willful or repeated. 



Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Fake News Alert - TX & Abbott with Employer Anti-Vaccine Mandate

Everywhere you look, the media is saying TX isn't permitting employer vaccine mandates, but that is NOT what is happening. To be clear, vaccine mandates are still permissible in TX. 


You can read Governor Abbott's Executive Order GA-40 here


As you can clearly see, all the Order prohibits are vaccine mandates that do not provide a mechanism for those who object to the "vaccination for any reason of personal conscience, based on religious belief, or for medical reasons, including prior recovery from COVID-19." 


This is almost entirely consistent with existing law and how, just about, every court case is shaking out with respect to vaccine mandates, with a few minor wrinkles that can't be ignored. The two wrinkles in the Order are:

  1. Not utilizing the term "sincerely held" prior to "religious beliefs," which thereby seems to expand the standard in protecting religion, which doesn't appear legally problematic; and, 
  2. Misstating the disability / handicap prong. 
    • Under existing disability / handicap law, an accommodation is never available just because the existence of a disability / handicap renders the policy (i.e., vaccination) unnecessary, which appears to be the intention of the wording where it states, "including prior recovery from COVID-19." 
    • Instead, under existing law, an accommodation is only available where a disability or handicap requires an accommodation for equality to exist. Stated otherwise, one needs a qualifying disability to receive an accommodation in the first instance, without it, there is nothing to accommodate. 
    • To be clear, under existing law, having had recovered from COVID-19 is NOT a disability that is recognized. We wonder how this aspect of the Order will shake out and more so, how the Supremacy Clause will shake out if / when the Federal Government responds.  


Do you see the distinction? Does the distinction matter?




Wednesday, September 29, 2021

NYS Bill to Allow Unemployment Benefits to Vaccine Refusal Firings

NYS Senator Alexis Weik Sponsored a bill that provides eligibility for unemployment insurance for "unemployment due to such employee's choice not to receive a coronavirus vaccine."


While this bill is nowhere near being enacted, do you agree with the Senator?


Is this bill perpetrating the spread of a deadly virus by empowering people to make stupid decisions that will lead to deaths or is it the right move to support liberty - my body my choice?


You decide - tell your NYS representatives if you support this bill or strongly oppose it!




Tuesday, September 28, 2021

NYC Permitted to Require Vaccinations of School Employees by Second Circuit Court of Appeals

 According to the Second Circuit:

This Court entered a temporary injunction in the above-captioned case on Friday, September 24, 2021 for administrative purposes pending decision by a three-judge panel. IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the September 24 injunction is DISSOLVED. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the motion for an injunction pending appeal is DENIED.


That said, not getting vaccinated does not equal automatic termination


As the City explained in their opposition to the injunction, "even employees who object to vaccination... can elect to stay home and retain their positions while being placed on unpaid leave with healthcare until early September 2022... And even if plaintiffs decline the extended leave option, the earliest any steps would be taken to terminate their employment would occur in December 2021." 


So, "employees who fail to submit proof of having received one dose of vaccination by September 27, 2021, are to be placed on unpaid leave with health insurance the following day. [internal citation] But an employee who submits proof of vaccination before November 30, 2021, will be able to return to work within a week. [internal citation] And an employee who submits proof of vaccination thereafter, but before September 5, 2022, will be able to return to work within two weeks." 


As to accommodations, the City is granting accommodations "for a religious or medical" needs. However, an underlying arbitration on the matter set "an alternative to any statutory reasonable accommodation process... for the 2021-2022 school year" where the deadline for "any requests to be considered as part of this process... [was] no later than Monday, September 20, 2021, by 5:00 p.m." Therefore, any school employee who has not yet applied for an accommodation, CANNOT get one. 


The City's opposition summed this entire situation up nicely where it stated, "Put bluntly, plaintiffs do not have a substantive due process right to teach children without being vaccinated against a dangerous infectious disease."








Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Vaccine Requirement for NYC Teachers Temporarily Restrained

The New York State Supreme Court (lowest level court with jurisdiction) issued a temporary restraining order until the sooner of a hearing or 9/22/21 concerning New York City's vaccine mandate for public education employees who instead argue for a Vax-Or-Test policy. 


To see the arguments yourself, in The New York City Municipal Labor Committee et al vs. The City of New York et al, click here


Specifically, the Order, at issue, "requires [vaccines for] all DOE staff, City employees, and contractors who 'work in person in a DOE school setting or DOE building'; and '[a]ll employees of any school serving students up to grade 12 and any UPK-3 or UPK-4 program that is located in a DOE building who work in-person, and all contractors hired by such schools or programs to work in-person' to – no later than September 27, 2021"


The teachers union makes three arguments against the Order, as follows:

  • "[B]odily integrity and the right to refuse medical treatment;"
  • A violation of "due process rights" because it prevents "permanently-appointed DOE and City employees declining vaccination from engaging in their employment;" and 
  • It "fails to provide required exceptions for those with medical contraindications or sincerely-held religious objections". 


The best argument is clearly the third because "DOE has advised that it will not allow those with medical or religious exceptions – should those be accepted – to continue working in person under a strict testing regimen, or remotely with those students receiving remote instructions. Nor is it clear at this stage how those who refuse vaccination will be treated as to leaves, benefits, and other statutory rights." 


While DOE may be able to refuse a given accommodation request that results in an employee working in a building, accommodations must be decided on a case-by-case basis, under binding law, and therefore, such a blanket policy is legally problematic. 


As we've been suggesting from the outset, NYC Government should negotiate with the Union as to appropriate accommodations. Think about it like a class action of the cooperative dialogue (required mediation following an accommodation request under NYC employment discrimination law).


Otherwise, NYC Government will continuously find itself engaging in individualized cooperative dialogues with each employee that requests an accommodation. That is a financially infeasible result for NYC plus it will cause many teachers to bring suit following each cooperative dialogue. All of this can and should be amicably resolved through advance negotiations by giving the Unions a seat at the table.


 




Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Vaccines vs. Sincerely Held Religious Beliefs - First Round Goes to Religion

The Federal Court for the Northern District of New York has enjoined vaccine mandates based upon sincerely held religious beliefs by way of issuing a Temporary Restraining Order in the case of Dr. A v. Hochul.  


Here is how the plaintiffs' argued that the vaccine violate their sincerely held religious beliefs - "vaccines [] were tested, developed or produced with fetal cells line derived from procured abortions." According to the plaintiffs:

 Johnson & Johnson/Janssen: Fetal cell cultures are used to produce and manufacture the J&J COVID-19 vaccine and the final formulation of this vaccine includes residual amounts of the fetal host cell proteins (≤0.15 mcg) and/or host cell DNA (≤3 ng).

 Pfizer/BioNTech: The HEK-293 abortion-related cell line was used in research related to the development of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

 Moderna/NIAID: Aborted fetal cell lines were used in both the development and testing of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine.

Further, plaintiffs religious beliefs are that they "oppose abortion under any circumstances, as they believe that abortion is the intrinsically evil killing of an innocent" and follow "spiritual leaders... who urge Christians to refuse said vaccines to avoid cooperation in abortion and to bear witness against it without compromise" and finally, their "religious conviction [is] against involuntary or coerced vaccination as an invasion of bodily autonomy contrary to their religious beliefs."


To be clear, the case is far from over with the next court deadline for the defendants to respond being set at September 22, 2021 at 5pm. As of this moment, no preliminary injunction or permanent injunction has been ordered. At this stage, the court has merely granted a temporary restraining order, which prohibits the denial of "religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccination" until round two of the case.


However, if you are the type of person who has a sincerely held religious belief against vaccination, you should use this case as your blueprint to request an accommodation.




 


 

Wednesday, June 02, 2021

Employees are Entitled to Use Paid Sick Leave to Recover from COVID-19 Vaccinations.

To provide further incentive for people to get vaccinated, The New York State Department of Labor recently issued guidance permitting employees to use paid sick leave to recover from side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine. The New York State legislature previously passed a law entitling employees to paid leave to receive vaccinations.


New York State law requires employers with five or more employees (or net income of more than $1 million dollars) to provide 40 hours of annual paid sick leave to its employees. New York Labor Law Sec. 196-b permits employees to use sick leave "for mental or physical illness, injury, or health condition, regardless of whether it had been diagnosed or requires medical care at the time of the request for leave." 


The DOL clarified that Section 196-b requires employers to "honor the employee's desire to use accrued sick leave for recovery of any side effects of the COVID-19 vaccination." 




Wednesday, March 17, 2021

NY Employees are Entitled to Paid Leave to Receive COVID-19 Vaccine

To further encourage mass vaccination, the Governor signed Senate Bill S2588A into law, which requires employers to provide employees with a "sufficient period of time", but not more than four (4) hours, of paid leave to receive each COVID-19 vaccine injection. The law is effective immediately and expires on December 31, 2022.


Employers must pay employees at their regular rate of pay for all hours of vaccination leave and may not require employees to first use other entitled leave (e.g. NYS Paid Sick Leave, NYC Paid Sick and Safe Leave, Employer sick leave policy). 


The law is noticeably silent on what if any verification an employer can request from an employee to prove they received the vaccine during the leave and how much notice an employee needs to provide prior to using such leave. The Department of Labor has yet to issue guidance on these issues.


How much notice before taking leave do you think should be required?

Should employees be required to submit verification to employers that they actually used the leave to get vaccinated?