New York recently amended its Health and Essential Rights Act (“HERO Act”) and published its “Model Airborne Infectious Disease Exposure Prevention Plan.” While the Model Plan specifies that there is currently no airborne infectious disease outbreak, the HERO Act requires New York employers to take steps now to comply with the statute. “Airborne infectious disease” is defined as any infectious, viral, bacterial, or fungal disease that is transmissible through the air in the form of aerosol particles or droplets and is designated by the Commissioner of Health as a highly communicable disease that presents a serious risk of harm to the public health. While COVID-19 would have been so designated a year ago, it is not so designated at this time. Likewise, unless designated by the Commissioner of Health, the seasonal flu will not qualify. See the New York Department of Labor Airborne Infectious Disease Exposure Prevention Standard here: The Airborne Infectious Disease Exposure Prevention Standard (ny.gov). Nevertheless, employers cannot wait until an outbreak is declared to comply with the statute.
What Employers Need to Know
The Act has broad definitions of “employer,” “employee,” and “work site.” “Employer” includes any person, entity, business, corporation, partnership, limited liability company, or association employing, hiring, or paying for the labor of any individual. “Employee” means any person providing labor or services for remuneration within the state and without regard to immigration status. The definition includes independent contractors. A “work site” means any physical space, including vehicles, where work is performed and the employer has the ability to exercise control. A work site includes employer-provided housing and transportation. Thankfully, employees’ own homes and vehicles are not covered.
The Act prohibits employers from retaliating or taking adverse action against any employee who exercises rights under the statute; reports violations of the statute; reports airborne infectious disease exposure; or refuses to work where the employee reasonably believes, in good faith, that such work exposes employees to an airborne infectious disease due to working conditions inconsistent with the law. The law, however, requires the employee to first notify the employer of the problem and then give the employer an opportunity to cure it.
On June 10, 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) released its COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) which outlines new requirements for most healthcare settings, along with guidance for non-healthcare employers. This post addresses OSHA’s guidance for non-healthcare employers. While employers were expecting more definitive directives from the federal government’s primary health and safety agency, they will, instead, have to consider whether and to what extent they should adopt the suggested measures to continue to promote a safe workplace.
Do not be surprised if, before the end of 2021, the federal government begins requiring contractors to certify or represent that their employees have received COVID vaccinations. The federal government has long conditioned contract awards on contractor compliance with emerging social policy mandates. This practice dates backs to the 1960s, when collateral social policy clauses began appearing in federal contracts. The National Emergency created by COVID-19 would appear ripe for a similar federal government action in federal contracting.
Several factors are converging in the United States which signal the potential for a COVID vaccine Certification or Representation. First, the supply issue should be mostly resolved by June 30, 2021. The Biden administration has committed to make enough vaccines available for every adult in the country by the end of May 2021. Second, the administration has been extremely active in making procurement law changes to conform to its policy objectives. Crafting an Executive Order on COVID Vaccines for federal contractor employees is clearly within the administration’s wheelhouse and target zone. Third, as reported in the March 8, 2021, Wall Street Journal, the largest employers in the country, across all sectors, are already engaged in large scale efforts to vaccinate their own employees. Fourth, while the law in this area is still evolving, the prevailing view is that, with certain exceptions, private employers are legally permitted to mandate their employees receive COVID vaccinations as a condition of continuing employment, subject to a variety of considerations related to employee legal, medical, and workplace accommodations. Finally, the federal government might find a federal contractor vaccine mandate a helpful leverage point in the evolving conflict with those states choosing to disregard COVID protections. Continue reading “Will Federal Contractors Be Required to Certify Employee COVID Vaccinations?”
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”
Late last month, Governor Cuomo signed into law the State Budget (S7506B), which includes new paid and unpaid sick leave requirements for employers in New York State. The law requires that all employers provide workers with job-protected sick leave, with the amount of leave dependent upon the employer’s size, number of employees, and net income. The law goes into effect September 30, 2020, but employers can prohibit the use of sick leave accrued under the law until January 1, 2021.
The law requires:
Employers with 100 or more employees must provide at least 56 hours of paid sick leave each calendar year;
Employers with between five and 99 employees must provide at least 40 hours of paid sick leave each calendar year;
Employers with fewer than five employees but having a net income greater than one million dollars in the previous tax year must provide at least 40 hours of paid sick leave each calendar year; and
Employers with fewer than five employees but having a net income less than one million dollars in the previous tax year must provide at least 40 hours of unpaid sick leave each calendar year.
Employers can fulfill their obligations by either providing the sick leave in a lump sum at the beginning of the calendar year (i.e., frontloading it) or by allowing employees to accrue sick leave at a rate of not less than one hour for every 30 hours worked, beginning at the later of September 30, 2020, or the commencement of employment. While current employees will begin accruing sick leave in 2020, employers are not required to permit usage of that accrued time until January 2021. Employees must be allowed to carry unused sick leave over to the next calendar year, but employers can restrict the use of sick leave to the maximum hours guaranteed under the law (either 40 or 56). The carryover of hours is intended to allow employees to maintain continuity and a bank of sick leave, which avoids accruals starting from zero every year; and the cap is meant to keep the total usage in a given year from being problematic for employers. Employers are not, however, required by the law to pay an employee for unused sick leave upon the employee’s termination, resignation, retirement, or other separation from employment.
The law’s requirements act as a floor, and employers can provide employees with additional benefits and sick leave in excess of the law’s requirements. Significantly, the sick leave requirements in S7506B are not limited to the COVID-19 pandemic but rather are permanent.
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.”
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.
Employers have been reeling over the past few weeks. As the coronavirus has spread, it has touched on all aspects of the employer-employee relationship. Stay-at-home orders; essential business designations; facility closures; reductions in staffing needs; and a myriad of federal, state, and local enactments and directives have radically changed the way businesses interact with their workers. Most of the changes have focused on how to allow individuals the necessary time off to recover from COVID-19, care for loved ones, and comply with stay-at-home orders, all while keeping businesses going.
The dust has certainly not settled on a lot of those issues, but another issue has begun to arise—as people recover from infection and quarantines expire, how do businesses safely reintroduce them into the workplace? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has guidelines (which it has already updated more than once), now many states do as well, and even some localities are getting involved. The rules of the road for the post-coronavirus workplace are beginning to take shape. Temperature scans, deep cleaning, social distancing, and out-of-work conduct are just some of the topics these regulations and different pieces of guidance consider.
The labor and employment members of the Blank Rome Coronavirus (“COVID-19”) Task Force are ready to assist businesses in navigating these new rules every step of the way. When your employees are ready come back, we’ll be there to help.
COVID-19 (commonly referred to as the “coronavirus”) was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (“WHO”) on March 11, 2020, and continues to impact businesses and public life around the world. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) is monitoring the status of the coronavirus, and various state and local governmental agencies are issuing states of emergency and quarantine directives. The virus continues to spread without containment, creating a host of new real-time issues for employers to address as the general duty to provide a safe working environment has significantly increased.
WHAT IS A PANDEMIC?
WHO has described a pandemic as the worldwide spread of a new disease. For a general discussion of what constitutes a pandemic, review WHO’s general guidance here.
What did WHO say about the COVID-19 pandemic?
WHO’s Director General made his remarks in a briefing to the media about the pandemic and, among other things, outlined general steps that countries should take, which are available here.
WHAT IS THE LATEST FEDERAL RESPONSE TO COVID-19?
On March 11, 2020, President Trump issued a ban on travel from Europe (minus the United Kingdom) to the United States beginning Friday, March 13, 2020, at midnight.
COVID-19 (commonly referred to as the “coronavirus”), a respiratory illness that was first diagnosed in Wuhan, China, in late 2019, has hit the United States. The World Health Organization (“WHO”) has declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern and the virus is being classified as an epidemic. With the spread of the virus, employers face a series of constantly evolving questions regarding their competing legal obligations to provide a safe workplace.
While the immediate risk of contracting COVID-19 in most workplaces remains low, many federal agencies, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”), have issued specific guidance for employers to respond to the disease. This client alert discusses recommended approaches and alternatives to specific situations affecting employees in the workplace. Implementation of these recommendations may need to be tailored to your particular business, with consideration being given to workplaces with employees who work in concentrated spaces; employees who have greater exposure on a daily basis with the public; employers who can easily transition to remote working arrangements; and employers who can afford to pay healthy employees to stay home.
WHAT SHOULD AN EMPLOYER DO IF AN EMPLOYEE…
…is sheltering a self-quarantined person?
The CDC does not recommend testing, symptom monitoring, or special management for people exposed to asymptomatic people with potential exposures to the virus. These people are not considered to be exposed and therefore are categorized as having “no identifiable risk.” As a result, there are no extraordinary precautions that need be taken other than those imposed on all employees, which is to stay home if they are feeling sick. Of course, employers can take extra precautions that they deem necessary.