The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), which was signed into law on December 29, 2022, and will become effective as of June 27, 2023, generally will require employers to accommodate pregnant applicants and employees (including “temp” workers) in the same manner as individuals with disabilities. Nothing in the PWFA constrains states and localities from enacting and enforcing, or continuing to enforce, laws with greater protections for pregnant workers.
On October 11, 2022, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued a new proposed rule that is more aligned with judicial precedent than a previous proposal regarding whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The proposed rule would rescind the Independent Contractor Rule (2021 IC Rule) promulgated by the Trump administration on January 5, 2021, which has been criticized by some for making it easier for businesses to classify workers as independent contractors.
This is the DOL’s second attempt to rescind the 2021 IC Rule, after a Texas federal court ruled that the DOL’s first revision failed on procedural grounds. The DOL’s latest proposal may also face legal challenges when it is made final. The proposal is subject to a 45-day comment period beginning October 13, 2022, the date of publication in the Federal Register.
On March 14, 2022, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released a technical assistance document, the COVID-19 Pandemic and Caregiver Discrimination Under Federal Employment Discrimination Laws, which explains how discrimination against applicants and employees with caregiving responsibilities can violate federal equal employment opportunity (EEO) laws. Although EEO laws do not prohibit discrimination against caregivers specifically, there are some circumstances in which discrimination against caregivers may be unlawful. Because the COVID-19 pandemic has created — and exacerbated — competing job and caregiving demands for individuals as they navigate hybrid work schedules, unexpected closures of school and care facilities, and potential COVID-19 exposure, the EEOC’s updated information may inform employer decisions and actions as they adapt their workplaces to the evolving COVID-19 pandemic.
On January 13, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court issued two significant opinions:
- In Nat’l Fed. of Independent Business v. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Supreme Court stayed enforcement of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) emergency temporary standard (ETS) related to COVID-19 prevention measures, holding that the groups and businesses challenging the standard were likely to succeed in showing that the ETS requirements exceeded OSHA’s statutory authority.
- In Biden v. Missouri, the Supreme Court lifted the stay of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Interim Final Rule (the CMS Rule) for health facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement, holding that the Secretary had statutory authority to issue the mandate.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on November 4, 2021, issued its Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), requiring all employers with 100 or more employees to choose between (1) implementing a mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policy, and (2) requiring face coverings and weekly testing for the nonvaccinated. That order was to go into effect on December 6, 2021, requiring the development of a policy and gathering proofs of vaccinations by that date, with the testing part taking effect on January 4, 2022. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on November 12 enjoined the ETS from taking effect; and following that order, OSHA stood down on enforcing the ETS. Much litigation followed, with a national consolidation of related cases shifted to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals; and that court on December 17 dissolved the order of the Fifth Circuit, reinstating the ETS.
On Friday, November 12, 2021, in BST Holdings, L.L.C, et al. v. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Case # 21-60845, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued an order affirming its November 6, 2021 order, staying the implementation and enforcement of OSHA’s November 5, 2021 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS). The ETS requires employers with 100 or more employees to ensure that their employees who report to a workplace are vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to weekly COVID-19 testing. The Fifth Circuit, which many consider to be the most politically conservative of all the circuit courts, issued its order following an expedited briefing schedule, prompted by an emergency motion to stay the ETS filed by various individuals, employers, religious groups and states. Pending further judicial review, the order barred OSHA from taking steps to implement or enforce the ETS. In response, OSHA has suspended all activities related to the ETS for the time being, stating: “While OSHA remains confident in its authority to protect workers in emergencies, OSHA has suspended activities related to the implementation and enforcement of the ETS pending future developments in the litigation.” Businesses now face an uncertain future with OSHA conceding that it will abide by the court’s order while pursuing its reversal. Because similar challenges to the ETS have been brought in all but one of the 12 federal circuit courts of appeals, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation will conduct a lottery as required by statute, pursuant to 28 U.S.C.A. §2112 (a)(3), likely this week, to select which federal circuit will hear appeals in the numerous challenges, including with respect to the Fifth Circuit’s order. Any outcome from the circuit selected in the lottery process may and likely will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.