The Return of the OSHA ETS: What Now and What’s Next?

Frederick G. Sandstrom

On December 17, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit revived the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s much-litigated “vaccinate or test” Emergency Temporary Standard (“ETS”). The Sixth Circuit’s divided decision lifted the nationwide stay on enforcement of the ETS that had previously been ordered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The litigation will now move to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has already received eight separate petitions seeking to stay the Sixth Circuit’s decision. The Supreme Court has ordered the federal government to respond to the petitions by December 30.

OSHA has moved quickly to reinstate the ETS. On December 18, OSHA released new guidance on the timing for compliance with, and enforcement of, the ETS’s requirements. Broadly speaking, the guidance states that: (1) OSHA will not issue citations for noncompliance with the ETS prior to January 10, 2022; and (2) OSHA also will not issue citations for noncompliance with the ETS’s testing requirements prior to February 9, 2022, provided that an employer is “exercising reasonable, good faith efforts to come into compliance.”

OSHA has promised more detailed guidance. And there will likely be more twists and turns as the appeals from the Sixth Circuit’s decision proceed to the Supreme Court. For now, however, covered employers that paused their efforts to comply with the ETS in light of the stay, should take steps to resume their efforts to continue down the path to compliance. The December 18 guidance suggests strongly that OSHA expects covered employers to do the following by the initial January 10 compliance deadline: (1) adopt a written vaccination policy; (2) confirm each employee’s vaccination status, including proof of vaccination for vaccinated employees; (3) provide paid time off for unvaccinated or partially vaccinated employees to be vaccinated; and (4) require face coverings and other protective measures for unvaccinated employees working on-site. The ETS also contains informational requirements, including an obligation for covered employers to provide employees with a copy of the CDC’s publication on “Key Things to Know About COVID-19 Vaccines” (a copy of which can be obtained here).

We will continue to update you on further developments regarding the ETS as the appeals process continues before the Supreme Court.

OSHA Releases Workplace COVID-19 Vaccine and Testing Rule

Frederick G. Sandstrom

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) released this morning the much-awaited text of its emergency temporary rule regarding mandatory workplace vaccination and testing for the COVID-19 virus. The rule is expected to be published in the Federal Register tomorrow, November 5, 2021, and will be effective upon publication. The emergency rule will be in effect for an initial period of six months but may be extended by formal rulemaking.

The following FAQ addresses key questions and issues relating to the OSHA rule and its requirements:

  1. Who is covered by the OSHA rule?

The OSHA rule applies to employers with 100 or more employees company-wide. The threshold is fluid and an employer will be covered by the rule if it has 100 or more employees at any time while the rule is in effect. An employer cannot, for example, look only to its headcount on the initial effective date of the rule. Once an employer is covered, it will remain covered for as long as the rule is in effect, even if its headcount falls below 100 employees.

Continue reading “OSHA Releases Workplace COVID-19 Vaccine and Testing Rule”

Workplace Safety Incentive Programs and Post-Incident Drug Testing—Still Okay under OSHA but Don’t Discourage Accident Reporting

Mark Blondman

Many employers have implemented workplace safety incentive programs in an effort to reduce time lost to injuries or illness. The programs generally reward workers for reporting near-misses or hazards and/or reward employees with a prize or bonus at the end of an injury-free period. The programs also may evaluate managers based on their work unit’s lack of injuries. Similarly, employers have implemented drug testing protocols with the same goals.

In May 2016, concerned that employers were not using incentive programs and drug testing policies to encourage safe practices but, instead, to punish employees who reported workplace safety issues, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) published a final rule prohibiting employers from retaliating against employees for reporting work-related injuries or illnesses. The final rule also suggested that it might constitute retaliation for an employer to limit post-incident and post-accident drug testing to the employee who reported an injury as a result of a workplace incident/accident and not to test all of the employees involved in the incident. Continue reading “Workplace Safety Incentive Programs and Post-Incident Drug Testing—Still Okay under OSHA but Don’t Discourage Accident Reporting”

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