On September 9, 2021, President Biden announced his six-pronged COVID-19 Action Plan, which will have a significant impact on employers across the country by mandating vaccinations for many employees. Many key details — including what exemptions may apply to mandatory vaccinations — remain unknown until additional federal guidance is provided in the upcoming weeks.”
On March 12, 2021, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released a new National Emphasis Program (NEP) designed to “significantly reduce or eliminate worker exposures to [COVID-19]” by targeting specific “high-hazard industries or work tasks” with greater frequency of close contact between workers for on-site inspections, outreach, and compliance assistance related to COVID-19 prevention and response measures. While federal OSHA’s NEP technically does not apply to state plans, OSHA is strongly encouraging them to do so; and state plans must submit within 60 days a notice of intent indicating whether they intend to adopt same or similar initiatives.
The NEP specifically targets certain industries based on public enforcement data, such as complaints, inspections and COVID-19-related violations, where the data reflects that workers are expected to perform tasks associated with exposure to COVID-19. The NEP lists numerous “primary” targets, which are divided up as either healthcare or non-healthcare employers.
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.
On June 1, 2020, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced that the state is on track and expected to enter Stage/Phase 2 of the Restart and Recovery Plan on June 15, 2020, which will permit nonessential retail businesses to reopen to the public and permit in-person outdoor dining, so long as required social distancing and other mitigation protocols are followed. Personal care service providers, such as hair salons, nail salons and barber shops are scheduled to reopen on June 22, 2020.
On June 9, 2020, Governor Murphy signed Executive Order No. 153, lifting the stay-at-home order that had been in place since March 21, 2020. Executive Order No. 153 states, among other things, “Paragraph 2 of Executive Order No. 107 (2020), which requires New Jersey residents to remain home or at their place of residence with limited exceptions, is hereby rescinded.”
On March 18, 2020, Governor Andrew Cuomo enacted Executive Order 202.6, temporarily closing all nonessential businesses in response to the coronavirus outbreak. In late April, Governor Cuomo issued guidance announcing a phased approach to reopening businesses that requires regions across New York State to satisfy seven criteria involving a drop in the infection rate, increased capacity in healthcare systems, increased ability to administer diagnostic tests and isolate new cases, and a capacity to implement contact tracing. With eight out of the state’s ten regions satisfying Governor Cuomo’s criteria, municipalities and businesses around the state prepare to return to work.
As government authorities look to implement business reopening measures, employers are now planning to move employees back into the workplace as state and local stay-at-home orders expire and other COVID-19 business restrictions expire or are modified. What are the various considerations employers must keep in mind when reopening their physical work locations?
This Question and Answer Guide describes a number of COVID-19 employment and return-to-work considerations. Because the COVID-19 pandemic is a fluid situation and highly dependent on jurisdiction- and sector-specific considerations, we anticipate that additional guidance will be coming from the federal, state and local governments as plans to allow businesses to open are developed in the coming days and weeks.