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Jill Ripke defends companies in employment and independent contractor class action matters dealing with claims relating to independent contractor status, misclassification, unpaid overtime, unpaid meal and rest breaks, and unpaid off-the-clock work.

On November 12, 2021, a panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a 22-page order reaffirming the initial stay of a vaccine emergency temporary standard (ETS) issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The ETS, affecting employers with 100 or more employees, is summarized here. The three-judge panel determined that OSHA did not have legal authority to issue the ETS. Among other concerns stated in the decision, the panel determined that OSHA’s mandate did not meet the high bar to issue an emergency standard because it had not sufficiently established a grave danger. Also, the panel found that the ETS’s vaccine or testing requirements were overbroad (by setting forth a standard requirement for workplaces regardless of the specific hazards present in individual workplaces) and underinclusive (by exempting many vulnerable workers in workplaces with fewer than 100 employees). Based on these and other legal infirmities, the panel held that the challenges to the ETS were likely to succeed on the merits, which supported the request for a stay. The panel also stated that the ETS would remain stayed pending adequate judicial review of the request for a permanent injunction and ordered OSHA to take no steps to implement or enforce the ETS until further court order.

Since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved use of three COVID-19 vaccines under emergency use authorizations in April 2021, many public and private employers have announced and/or implemented mandatory vaccination policies. In addition, on September 9, 2021, President Biden signed an executive order requiring that certain federal contractors mandate vaccinations for their workers and directed OSHA to implement a rule that would require employers with 100 or more employees to mandate vaccination and/or COVID-19 testing. For more information, see our previous blog post.

Employers implementing mandatory vaccination policies (either by the company’s decision or pursuant to government requirements) have been left with questions on how to properly address employee requests for accommodations to such policies due to religious beliefs, practices, and observances.

On September 17, 2021, the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Health issued a new Public Health Order, effective at midnight on October 7, 2021, and continuing until further notice.

The Health Order emphasizes that “[t]he best way to reduce the current level of community transmission and to prevent future surges is for everyone who is eligible, including those who have recovered from a COVID-19 infection, to get fully vaccinated as soon as possible.” To promote its goal and reduce community transmission of the virus, the Health Order requires:

On September 14, 2021, Contra Costa County issued Health Order No. HO-COVID19-57 (the “Order”) mandating certain Contra Costa County businesses and operations to verify its patrons and employees are either fully vaccinated or have a recent negative COVID-19 test result in response to the surging number of COVID-19 delta variant cases.  The Order takes effect at 8:00 a.m. on September 22, 2021.

Today, President Biden announced the nation’s COVID-19 Action Plan, which is a six-prong, comprehensive national strategy designed to save lives, keep schools open and safe, and protect the nation’s economy while avoiding additional lockdowns and damage. The six prongs are:

  • Vaccinating the unvaccinated;
  • Further protecting the vaccinated;
  • Keeping schools safely open;
  • Increasing testing & requiring masking;
  • Protecting the nation’s economic recovery; and
  • Improving care for those with COVID-19.

On August 25, 2021, Cal/OSHA issued a press release which encouraged employers and workers to follow the recent update from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) recommending that all individuals wear face coverings while indoors regardless of vaccination status (August 25 Recommendation). The full text of the Cal/OSHA press release is linked here and

Seven Bay Area counties and the City of Berkeley issued Health Orders mandating mask use for indoor public spaces such as places of work. The Orders apply to both vaccinated and non-vaccinated individuals. However, the Orders provide exceptions for individuals working alone in a closed office space, individuals that are eating or drinking, and individuals specifically exempted by the California Department of Public Health guidance such as individuals with medical conditions that prevent them from wearing a mask. The indoor mask mandates are effective August 3, 2021 and will continue to be in effect until rescinded. If your company has business in any of these locations, please review each applicable order for detailed information.

Note that in the workplace, workers must also follow Cal/OSHA mask requirements. Please consult with legal counsel for questions related to the Health Orders or Cal/OSHA.

The links to the relevant Health Orders are included below: