On August 26, 2021, the New York State Department of Health’s Public Health and Health Planning Council approved temporary emergency regulations implementing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for personnel in all entities licensed under Article 28 of the Public Health Law (including nursing homes, hospitals, and diagnostic and treatment centers), home care agencies licensed or certified under Article 36, hospice programs licensed under Article 40 and adult care facilities licensed under Article 7 of the Social Services Law. Notably, the final version of the approved emergency regulations removed the religious exemption that was present in the initial proposed version. As a result, health care workers were required to receive their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by September 27 — and personnel at other covered entities to receive their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by October 7 — unless a medical exemption is granted. On September 13, 2021, several doctors and nurses who allege that their sincere religious beliefs compel them to refuse COVID-19 vaccination, filed suit (Dr. A, et al. v. Kathy Hochul, et al.) claiming the New York State Department of Health’s failure to recognize religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate is unconstitutional. Plaintiffs sought a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction enjoining the Department of Health from enforcing the mandate.
Today, after much anticipation and just in time for the Memorial Day holiday, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission released updated guidance on COVID-19 vaccination issues raised under federal equal employment laws. We outline five things you need to know about the new guidance.
Faegre Drinker previously reported on one of the first lawsuits challenging a COVID-19 vaccine mandate. As employers continue to evaluate employee vaccination, another lawsuit has been filed in the Central District of California, California educators for Medical Freedom et al v. The Los Angeles Unified School District et al., 21-cv-02388 (C.D. Cal. filed 3/17/2021).
The California Educators for Medical Freedom, along with seven employees of the Los Angeles Unified School District, are seeking injunctive relief and potential damages due to a vaccine mandate instituted in March of 2021. Plaintiffs were allegedly told that if they were not vaccinated by April of 2021, they could face a “job detriment, up to and including termination from employment.”
As COVID-19 vaccines become more widely accessible, and certain localities relax COVID-19 restrictions, employers hoping to ramp up on-site operations or reduce absenteeism face a new challenge: navigating employee vaccination. Employers are evaluating whether to mandate, strongly suggest or simply remain neutral regarding COVID-19 vaccinations and on-site work.
The considerations surrounding workplace vaccination programs are complex. Business justifications and accommodation issues, potential public relations and employee relations pitfalls, the impact of vaccination on workforce safety procedures, litigation risks on multiple fronts — these are just the beginning. To help piece together this business and regulatory puzzle, we have compiled a list of issues organizations should consider as they set policy and communication plans regarding on-site work and COVID-19 vaccines. We have also identified issues to consider with regard to the practical application of any such policy and the development of related communications to employees or others.
California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) has issued new guidance in the form of frequently asked questions on the state’s pay data collection and reporting requirements. To help employers get ready to comply, on February 1, 2021, DFEH released a template pay data report form and guide for submitting reports through the portal. DFEH’s pay data submission portal will be available by February 16, 2021. Once the portal is live, employers must use the online portal to submit their pay data reports.
Many workplaces are likely to see a rise in flu activity at the same time as an increased rate of COVID-19 infections. The paramount concern for all employers should be keeping sick workers out of the workplace. Now is the time to get ahead of the questions that are likely to arise. The CDC’s and other guidance will certainly continue to evolve, and it is important to continue to monitor developments and adjust policies accordingly. However, having a plan in place will bode well for employers and employees alike and will provide a solid starting place to incorporate new guidance as it is issued.
For the full alert, visit the Faegre Drinker website.