In October, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) updated its COVID-19 Technical Assistance, providing additional guidance for employers on the interaction between COVID-19 vaccine workplace policies and federal equal employment opportunity (EEO) laws. Here are key updates to the Technical Assistance:
OSHA ISSUES EMERGENCY TEMPORARY STANDARD WHICH REQUIRES A VACCINE MANDATE POLICY WITH AN EXCEPTION FOR WEEKLY TESTING
OSHA issued its much-anticipated Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) late last week on Thursday, November 4, 2021. In general, the ETS requires employers to establish, implement, and enforce a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy. The ETS provides a limited exemption from the vaccine mandate which permits an employer to establish a policy which allows employees to choose either vaccination or regular weekly COVID-19 testing and wear a face covering in the workplace as an alternative to vaccination.
The Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) recently published a new guidance on disclosures and requests for information regarding a person’s receipt of the COVID-19 vaccination in relation to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (more commonly known as HIPAA). As employers continue to develop COVID-19 vaccination policies in the workplace, this guidance may be important.
On September 29, 2021, the day before it was set to expire, the Massachusetts legislature amended the COVID-19 Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (MA EPSL), extending it until April 1, 2022 or the exhaustion of $75 million in program funds, whichever is earlier. Additionally, the amended MA EPSL expanded the reasons for which employees can use sick leave to include “to care for a family member who needs to obtain or recover from a COVID-19 immunization.”
In recent weeks, a growing conversation has unfolded about COVID-19 vaccine mandates in the workplace. This conversation was further thrust into the spotlight last night, on September 9, 2021, when President Biden outlined a far-reaching COVID-19 Action Plan, which particularly seeks vast vaccine mandates in the workplace.
For employers, implementing a vaccine policy can be intimidating given the variety of state and federal regulators who have issued guidance on the subject. Additionally, a COVID-19 vaccine mandate may carry an extra threat of workplace polarization of which many employers are understandably wary. The purpose of this Client Alert is to summarily outline a toolkit of federal guidance, including President Biden’s COVID-19 Action Plan, that an employer may consult, in part, when considering whether to implement a COVID-19 vaccine program in their workplace. Please note, all numbered headings below are hyperlinked.
OSHA’s Issues New COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards for Healthcare Industry and Additional COVID-19 Guidance for Other Industries
On June 10, 2021, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) unveiled its long-awaited emergency temporary standard (“ETS”) for curbing health and safety risks associated with COVID-19. Significantly, the ETS has a limited reach as it is required for only the healthcare industry with some exceptions. Unlike previous OSHA guidance, the ETS is a mandatory rule for covered employers.
In a decision that is sure to draw the attention of students, parents, and school administrators, on Wednesday, June 23, 2021, the United Stated Supreme Court held that a Pennsylvania school district violated a student’s First Amendment rights when it disciplined her for posting vulgar language and gestures on social media from an off-campus location. While finding in favor of the student based on the particular facts of the case, the Court also addressed potential circumstances where a student’s off-campus conduct could be grounds for discipline, thereby leaving open the possibility that future cases could be decided differently.
MASSACHUSETTS AMENDS THE OPEN MEETING LAW TO TEMPORARILY ALLOW A PUBLIC BODY TO HOLD MEETINGS THROUGH REMOTE PARTICIPATION UNTIL APRIL 1, 2022
Today the Governor signed Chapter 20 of the Acts of 2021, which authorizes remote participation for all public bodies until April 1, 2022. This temporary measure provides public bodies with the time needed to orderly transition from fully remote meetings to in-person meetings. In response to public demand and interest from cities and towns, the General Court will take this time to determine whether remote participation is here to stay.
HALFWAY THERE: THE MASSACHUSETTS SENATE PASSES TEMPORARY EXTENSION FOR REMOTE PARTICIPATION; WILL THE MASSACHUSETTS HOUSE FOLLOW SUIT?
Thursday afternoon, June 10, 2021, the Senate, acting at warp speed, voted on amendments to S. 2467, the municipal relief legislation which includes provisions continuing the authority for remote meetings for all public bodies. The Senate passed several amendments, and then passed the bill to be engrossed, with an Emergency Preamble, so it could be effective immediately if passed by both chambers and signed by the Governor. The engrossed bill, reprinted as S. 2472, was sent over to the House later on Thursday afternoon.
AS MASSACHUSETTS REOPENS, TEMPORARY RELIEF TO HOLD REMOTE PUBLIC MEETINGS MAY ARRIVE BY THE END OF THE WEEK
On May 17, 2021, Governor Baker announced that the State of Emergency in Massachusetts will end on June 15, 2021. With this announcement comes the end of the authority allowing a quorum of any public body to meet remotely, unless the Massachusetts General Court takes timely action to amend the Open Meeting Law. Legislation extending this temporary authority beyond the June 15, 2021 deadline is pending in the Senate, and could be through to the Governor for signature by the end of the week.
Murphy, Hesse, Toomey & Lehane, LLP, Partner Katherine Hesse gave a plenary presentation on Recent Developments in ERISA on Friday September 16 to members of the Group Legal Services Association (“GLSA”) at its annual meeting in New Orleans. Among the topics she emphasized were what employers/plan sponsors need to know in the aftermath of the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade and lessons from the Court’s decision in Hughes and other class action litigation as to factors to consider Read More
On August 12, 2022, Governor Charlie Baker signed S. 3096, “An act relative to equity in the cannabis industry,” (“Act”) into law. The Act reforms Massachusetts’s existing marijuana laws, particularly with respect to host community agreements (“HCAs”), community impact fees (“CIFs”), and social consumption sites (e.g. marijuana cafes). The Act empowers the Cannabis Control Commission (“Commission”), the state regulatory agency, to exert greater control over HCAs and their CIFs. Municipalities levy CIFs on cannabis businesses to account for the costs they impose on the municipality as a result of their operations. Additionally, the Act allows municipalities to permit on-premises social consumption of marijuana at designated sites. Other notable provisions of the Act include the new Social Equity Trust Fund (“Trust Fund”), changes to the tax law regarding cannabis businesses, and various provisions concerning those persons and communities most impacted by the prior illegality of marijuana usage and sale. Governor Baker vetoed only one section of the final bill: the provision calling on the state to conduct a study of medical marijuana usage in schools.