The FDA’s rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations has given hope to many employers that we may finally be witnessing the horizon of the pandemic. But this good news comes with a few side-effects, including the question of whether employers can require, or even encourage, their employees to get vaccinated.

To that end, on December 16, 2020, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued guidance regarding the COVID-19 vaccinations in the workplace and the interplay with other employment laws.

Most significantly, the EEOC guidance makes clear that employers are legally allowed to mandate vaccines before employees are permitted to return to work, provided the employer makes accommodations for employees with certain disabilities and sincerely held religious beliefs.

Medical Accommodation Under Mandatory Vaccination Policy:

The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) permits employers to have an employment qualification standard that includes “a requirement that an individual shall not pose a direct threat to the health or safety of individuals in the workplace.” However, if such a standard tends to screen out individuals with a disability—something mandatory vaccination could do—then the employer must show that the unvaccinated employee would pose a substantial risk of harm to others that cannot be eliminated or reduced by reasonable accommodation. To make this determination, employers should conduct an individualized assessment of four factors: (1) the duration of the risk; (2) the nature of the severity of the potential harm; (3) the likelihood that the potential harm will occur; and (4) the imminence of the potential harm.

The EEOC indicated that a “direct threat” would include an unvaccinated employee who exposes other employees to the COVID-19 virus. If such an employee cannot be vaccinated due to a disability, the employer can exclude the employee from the workplace if there is no way to provide a reasonable accommodation (absent undue hardship) that would eliminate or reduce the risk caused by the unvaccinated employee.

If the threat caused by the employee cannot be reduced to an acceptable level, the employer can exclude the employee from physically entering the workplace. However, all other federal, state and local EEO laws and employee rights will need to be taken into account before such an employee can be automatically terminated. This may include providing telework, and if no such work is available, to continue to provide those eligible with leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act or other employer policies.

Employers must also engage in the interactive process to explore available accommodations. The EEOC made clear that the prevalence in the workplace of employees who already have received a COVID-19 vaccination and the amount of contact with others, whose vaccination status could be unknown, may impact the undue hardship consideration. Employers may rely on CDC recommendations when deciding whether an effective accommodation that would not pose an undue hardship is available.
Continue Reading Mandatory Vaccines in the Workplace? New EEOC Guidance Regarding What Employers Can Do

As we wrote on December 3, 2020, an emergency COVID-19 rule was adopted and approved by the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board. The regulation contains significant new requirements including a mandatory written “COVID-19 Prevention Program,” paid time off in certain circumstances when a “COVID-19 case” is excluded from the workplace, notice and training requirements, and requires that employers offer testing in some situations.

The emergency standards will remain in effect for 180 days unless renewed, withdrawn or replaced. It applies to all California employers covered by Cal/OSHA (generally, employers with ten or more employees at any time during the year).
Continue Reading A Deeper Dive into the New Cal/OSHA Temporary Emergency Standards for COVID-19 Prevention

On November 30, 2020, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s (“Cal/OSHA”) Emergency COVID-19 Prevention Regulation went into effect. The regulations apply to all employers, employees, and to all places of employment with three exceptions: (1) workplaces where there is only one employee who does not have contact with other people; (2) employees who

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Executive Order N-62-20—way back on May 6, 2020—which created a presumption that employees’ COVID-19-related illnesses were caused at work and therefore covered by workers’ compensation. That order covered COVID-19 infections from March 19, 2020 to July 5, 2020, at which time the order expired. To fill the void, on

On September 11, 2020, the United States Department of Labor issued revised regulations governing the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). The regulations implement the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA) and Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLEA) provisions of the FFCRA. The revised regulations were issued to address a decision from a