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 February 21, Britain’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced that all of England’s COVID-19 regulations and restrictions would be revoked in coming weeks. Shortly thereafter, countries across the globe began to follow suit.
- In the United Kingdom, mandatory vaccination regulations for employees in England’s health and social care settings that were due to be implemented April 1, 2022, will be revoked by March 15, 2022.
- In Austria, the country’s universal COVID-19 vaccination mandate will be suspended. The measure was signed into law on February 4, but compliance checks were not scheduled to start until March 15.
The COVID-19 pandemic is causing many employers to reconsider the need for employees to return to the office in any capacity. At the same time, many employees have requested to work remotely from other countries. This presents potential tax (both corporate and individual), permanent establishment, and immigration issues. In response, as of the beginning of 2022, over 20 countries are now taking a dynamic approach to these changes and have introduced “digital nomad” visas that allow individuals to live in the respective country while working for a company that has no presence there.
Brazil has joined this growing number of countries that are offering digital nomad visas, issuing the long-awaited Resolution No. 45. Resolution No. 45 allows non-Brazilian workers to apply for visas that allow them to work in Brazil as digital nomads for up to 90 days during a 180-day period, or up to 180 days in a one-year period. Such visas will be valid for up to one year and will be eligible for renewal for another year. The maximum period a worker may remain in the country pursuant to Resolution No. 45 depends upon the worker’s nationality.
Austria made headlines this week by becoming the first country in Europe to implement a general mandate for vaccinations against COVID-19.
The regulation applies to all adults, with limited exemptions for individuals who are pregnant, who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons, and who have recovered from COVID-19 within the last 180 days.
On February 9, 2022, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 114, which provides COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave (SPSL) for covered employees who are unable to work or telework due to COVID-19 related reasons from January 1, 2022 through September 30, 2022. SB 114 is nearly identical to Assembly Bill 84 (AB) which was passed by the California Legislature on February 7, 2022. SB 114 takes effect on February 19, 2022, (10 days after the bill is signed by Gov. Newsom) and adds Sections 248.6 and 248.7 to the California Labor Code.
Among other things, SB 114:
- Applies to employers with more than 25 employees.
- Establishes a new bank of COVID-19 related SPSL.
- Broadens the reasons employees can take COVID-19 SPSL
- Permits employers to request proof of a positive COVID-19 test as to the employee or the employee’s family member.
- Requires retroactive payment if an employee would have been eligible for SPSL since January 1, 2022.
- Will remain in effect until September 30, 2022.
Recent Employment Tribunal (ET) decisions have shed light on the risks that can arise for employers where employees refuse to attend the workplace because of COVID-19 concerns. We consider below how ETs have dealt with claims of discrimination and automatic unfair dismissal related to COVID-19.
In X v. Y (ET 241947/2020), an employer withheld an employee’s wages after she refused to attend the workplace due to her fear that she would contract COVID-19 and pass it on to her vulnerable husband. The employee brought a claim for unlawful discrimination arguing that her opinion regarding the risk of COVID-19 and the need to protect herself amounted to a philosophical belief that was capable of constituting a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. The ET disagreed. It found that the employee’s view was not a philosophical belief protected under the Equality Act 2010 but “a widely held opinion based on the present state of information” and a “reaction to a threat of physical harm”. Her claim therefore failed.