EEOC Releases New Guidance on Impact of COVID-19 Vaccinations

Mara B. Levin, Anthony A. Mingione, and Jacob W.E. Kearney






The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) released updated guidance on December 16, 2020, to address the impact of COVID-19 vaccinations in the workplace. The guidance indicates that employers may require COVID-19 vaccinations for workers to be able to return to the workplace as long as employers comply with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (“Title VII”), the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), and Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (“GINA”).

Here are a few highlights:

      • Administration of the vaccine by the employer (or a contractor on the employer’s behalf) is not a medical examination and does not implicate the ADA, GINA, or Title VII. Employers must ensure, however, that all vaccine pre-screening questions are “job-related and consistent with business necessity” and do not request genetic information.
      • Asking or requiring employees to show proof of receipt of a COVID-19 vaccination is not a disability-related inquiry under the ADA because it is not likely to reveal information about any disability, nor does it impact GINA. Subsequent questions, such as “why did an employee not receive the vaccine,” would implicate concerns under the ADA and GINA, however. Employers must therefore also ensure that follow-up questions are “job-related and consistent with business necessity” and avoid asking questions about genetic information or family medical history.
      • Employers must provide reasonable accommodations, subject to “undue hardship” analysis, to workers who are unable to get the vaccine because of a disability (under the ADA) or sincerely held religious beliefs (under Title VII).
      • An employer may physically preclude an employee who cannot be vaccinated from entering the workplace when that employee poses a “direct threat to the health or safety of individuals in the workplace,” which threat cannot be eliminated by a reasonable accommodation. However, an employer may not automatically terminate the employment of that worker. Employers must consider what protections the employee may have under relevant EEO laws or other federal, state, and local authorities.

We encourage employers working on their return-to-work strategies to review the EEOC guidance as they consider how and whether to implement COVID-19 vaccination requirements. If you have any questions or need guidance specific to your workplace, please do not hesitate to contact Blank Rome for more information.

Defaulting 401(k) Plan Borrowers in the Time of COVID

Daniel L. Morgan

The great majority of 401(k) plans allow participants to borrow against their plan benefits. These loans are secured by the borrowing participant’s plan account and are typically repaid by withholding amounts from the borrower’s paychecks.

Plan loans are subject to a number of limitations, including a repayment period of five years (unless the loan is used to acquire a primary residence) and a maximum borrowing limit of 50 percent of the borrower’s vested account balance or $50,000.* Violating these limits has adverse tax consequences to the borrower, which are not addressed in this article. The focus of this piece is what happens when someone has borrowed from a 401(k) plan within the limits, terminates employment, and then defaults on the loan—in particular, changes made by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”) and a 2017 change to the tax law, which are helpful to the large number of people who may find themselves in this situation during the pandemic.

Plan Loan Defaults by Terminated Employees = Plan Distributions

Under most 401(k) plans, borrowers who terminate employment before paying off their plan loan must either pay the entire remaining amount of the loan within a period of time specified by the plan after cessation of employment or, failing to do so, be considered to be in default on the loan, in which event the tax law treats the borrower as having received a distribution from the plan in the amount of the unpaid loan balance. The Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) refers to this amount as a plan offset amount.

Continue reading “Defaulting 401(k) Plan Borrowers in the Time of COVID”

Strident DOL Revises FFCRA Reg, Thumbs Its Nose at NY Federal Court Decision

Jason E. Reisman

On August 3, 2020, at the urging of the State of New York, U.S. District Judge Paul Oetken of the Southern District of New York struck down four different provisions of the U.S. Department of Labor’s (“DOL”) implementing regulation for the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”): (1) the “work availability” requirement, under which paid leave is only available if an employee has work from which to take leave; (2) the requirement of employer permission to take leave intermittently; (3) the definition of “health care provider” for purposes of exclusion from paid leave benefits; and (4) the requirement for an employee to provide certain documentation before taking leave. New York v. U.S. Dep’t of Labor, 2020 WL 4462260 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 3, 2020).

Although the judge did not issue a “nationwide” injunction, the mere fact that there was a decision by a federal judge striking certain important provisions of the FFCRA regulation left employers (or maybe just their counsel) in a panic about the implications outside of New York. Would this decision impact eligible employees in California? Would the decision be retroactive? Would the DOL appeal? Would it seek a stay of the decision while the appeal was pending? Continue reading “Strident DOL Revises FFCRA Reg, Thumbs Its Nose at NY Federal Court Decision”

EEOC Says Work-from-Home Not Guaranteed as Post-Pandemic Reasonable Accommodation

Mark Blondman

During the pandemic, many employers have permitted employees to work remotely/telework in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. As the incidence of the virus has subsided in certain geographic areas, employers have begun to reopen their worksites and have required employees to return to their physical place of work. In doing so, these employers have been met with requests from certain employees that they be permitted to continue working remotely, leading to the question of whether the employer is required to grant such a request. In Technical Assistance Questions and Answers issued on September 8, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) answered the question with a qualified “NO.” Continue reading “EEOC Says Work-from-Home Not Guaranteed as Post-Pandemic Reasonable Accommodation”

Bereavement Leave and Employee Support Amid COVID-19

Emery Gullickson Richards

As employers seek to support employees losing loved ones to the coronavirus COVID-19, thoughtful consideration of workplace measures takes on critical significance. How employers support employees through the loss of a loved one has an indelible impact on the lives of employees, the work environment, and the organization’s integrity. Bereavement leave policies address the unprecedented circumstances created by the mounting, tragic toll of COVID-19, providing support to employees at the time when they need it most. Although bereavement leave policies are not legally required in most jurisdictions in the United States, most U.S. employers offer some amount of paid bereavement leave.[1]

Bereavement Leave Laws

Only a small number of jurisdictions have bereavement leave laws. For example, the Oregon Family Leave Act (“OFLA”) provides employees at certain employers[2] in the state with the right to take protected leave to make funeral arrangements, attend a funeral, or to grieve a family member who has passed away. This bereavement leave may last for a period of up to two weeks and must be completed within 60 days of the employee learning of the death of their loved one. Similarly, the Illinois Child Bereavement Leave Act provides employees[3] with bereavement leave rights in the event of the loss of a child, and an employee who loses more than one child within a year may take up to six weeks of bereavement leave. Other states, such as Massachusetts, have considered similar laws. Recently, a Massachusetts resident created an online petition urging legislators to take up the cause again amid the coronavirus pandemic, highlighting the increased focus on these policies today. Continue reading “Bereavement Leave and Employee Support Amid COVID-19”

Another Round for the Garden State! New Jersey Again Changes Leave and Disability Benefits for COVID-19 Impacted Employees

Thomas J. Szymanski

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy recently signed S2374 into law, expanding the New Jersey Family Leave Act (“NJFLA”) and New Jersey Temporary Disability Benefits Law (“NJTDBL”) and providing additional employee protections during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and future epidemics, including (1) the expansion of reasons for leave; (2) certification changes; (3) intermittent use of such leave; (4) changes related to highly compensated employees; and (5) the expansion of the scope of compensable leave under NJTDBL. These changes are effective immediately and apply retroactively to March 25, 2020.

NJFLA—Expanded Reasons for Leave

During a state of emergency declared by the Governor, or when indicated to be needed by the Commissioner of Health or other public health authority, due to “an epidemic of a communicable disease, a known or suspected exposure to the communicable disease, or efforts to prevent spread of a communicable disease,” an employee may use NJFLA leave for the following new reasons:

    1. Childcare—to care for a child due to a school or daycare closure;
    2. Mandatory quarantine— to care for a family member subject to mandatory quarantine; and
    3. Voluntary self-quarantine—to care for a family member whose doctor recommends a voluntary self-quarantine.

Continue reading “Another Round for the Garden State! New Jersey Again Changes Leave and Disability Benefits for COVID-19 Impacted Employees”

NJ WARN Amended in Light of COVID-19 Pandemic

Asima J. Ahmad

On April 14, 2020, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed Senate Bill 2353 into law, which excludes mass layoffs resulting from the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic from the notice and severance pay requirements contained in the Millville Dallas Airmotive Plant Job Loss Notification Act (“NJ WARN”). Prior to this change, employers faced uncertainty on whether they would be obligated to provide notice and severance pay to each full-time employee that was terminated with less than the required 60-days’ notice due to the pandemic.

Specifically, SB 2353 revises the definition of “mass layoff” to mirror the exceptions that are already contained in NJ WARN’s definition of “termination of operations.” As a result, a mass layoff which would otherwise require notice shall not include one “made necessary because of a fire, flood, natural disaster, national emergency, act of war, civil disorder or industrial sabotage, decertification from participation in the Medicare and Medicaid programs as provided under Titles XVIII and XIX of the federal “Social Security Act,” Pub.L. 74-271 (42 U.S.C. s.1395 et seq.) or license revocation pursuant to P.L.1971, c.136 (C.26:2H-1 et al.).” These changes go into effect immediately and are retroactive to March 9, 2020, the date that Governor Murphy declared a COVID-19-based state of emergency and public health emergency in New Jersey via Executive Order 103. Continue reading “NJ WARN Amended in Light of COVID-19 Pandemic”

Pennsylvania Requires Life-Sustaining Businesses to Implement Significant New COVID-19 Safety Measures

Mark Blondman and Frederick G. Sandstrom

The Pennsylvania Secretary of Health issued an Order on April 15 imposing significant additional “safety measures” on life-sustaining businesses that have been permitted to maintain in-person operations during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. The Order might also be a preview of requirements that may be more broadly implemented in connection with an eventual general reopening of businesses in the Commonwealth. The order is available here.

The Order requires all businesses authorized to maintain in-person operations to implement specific “distancing, mitigation and cleaning protocols” by 8:00 p.m. on Sunday, April 19. These protocols include an obligation to “provide masks for employees” and to “make it a mandatory requirement to wear masks while on the work site.”

The Order covers three areas: (1) protocols for day-to-day operations by all life-sustaining businesses; (2) specific protocols life-sustaining businesses must follow upon exposure to a person with a probable or confirmed case of COVID-19; and (3) additional protocols for life-sustaining businesses, other than healthcare providers, that serve the public within a building or defined area. Continue reading “Pennsylvania Requires Life-Sustaining Businesses to Implement Significant New COVID-19 Safety Measures”

City of LA Publishes Rules and Regulations Clarifying COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave Order

Caitlin I. Sanders

As we previously reported, on April 7, 2020, Los Angeles City Mayor Garcetti issued an emergency order calling for supplemental paid sick leave for City employees who are not covered by the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act and who must miss work for reasons related to COVID-19. On April 11, 2020, the Los Angeles Office of Wage Standards (“OWS”) issued rules and regulations clarifying Mayor Garcetti’s supplemental paid sick leave order. The rules and regulations can be found on the OWS website here.

The OWS anticipates updating these rules and regulations, and we will continue to monitor the OWS for the latest guidance.

For the latest updates, please visit Blank Rome’s Coronavirus (“COVID-19”) Task Force page.

Understanding Paid Sick Leave and Family Leave in New York Following the Enactment of Families First Coronavirus Response Act

Christopher Cody Wilcoxson, Anthony A. Mingione, and Mark Blondman

On Wednesday, March 18, 2020, Governor Cuomo signed Senate Bill 8091 (the “NY Act”) providing coronavirus COVID-19 relief for affected employees. Blank Rome’s Coronavirus Task Force covered the immediate enactment on our Blank Rome Workplace Blog. The NY Act provides sick leave and benefits that are in excess of those provided by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”), which President Donald Trump signed into law on the same day. Blank Rome’s Coronavirus Task Force detailed the FFCRA when it was enacted; and provided updated guidance on March 25, 2020.

Employers in New York are required to comply with both the NY Act and the FFCRA and must determine whether any benefits in excess of those provided by FFCRA are required. This update summarizes several of the key differences between the New York and federal benefits.

What Employers Are Covered?

NY ACT: All employers are subject to the NY Act; however, benefits vary based on the size and net income of the employer.

FFCRA: Only businesses with fewer than 500 employees within the United States are subject to the FFCRA. Continue reading “Understanding Paid Sick Leave and Family Leave in New York Following the Enactment of Families First Coronavirus Response Act”