On February 9, 2022, California Governor Newsom signed SB 114 into law, reinstituting COVID-19 sick leave for 2022 (“2022 COVID-19 Sick Leave”). 2022 COVID-19 Sick Leave applies to employers with more than 25 employees and becomes effective February 19, 2022. Notably, the 2022 COVID-19 Sick Leave is retroactive to January 1, 2022. It will expire on September 30, 2022.

This week, the Department of Labor, Health and Human Services and the Treasury issued a new set of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) confirming that group health plans and issuers must provide 100% coverage of over-the-counter (OTC) COVID-19 diagnostic tests beginning January 15, 2022.

The FAQs are further interpretation of the coverage mandate required by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), as amended by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). Under this new guidance, 100% of the cost for COVID-19 tests purchased by an individual for diagnostic purposes on or after January 15, 2022, must be covered without cost-sharing or medical management requirements—even if the test was purchased OTC without a provider prescription or clinical assessment. This requirement continues for the duration of the national public health emergency.

On December 14, 2021, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) updated its guidance to affirm that workers who contract COVID-19 can be protected from discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Depending on an individual employee’s specific circumstances, COVID-19 may constitute a protected physical or mental disability, may serve as the basis for an employer’s perception that an employee has a disability, and/or may contribute to a record of employee impairment.

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.

On October 11, 2021, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order expanding upon a recently passed law that generally prohibited Texas businesses from requiring proof of vaccination from customers. The new executive order applies to both consumers and employees and states, in part: “No entity in Texas can compel receipt of a COVID-19 vaccine by any individual, including an employee or a consumer, who objects to such vaccination for any reason of personal conscience, based on a religious belief, or for medical reasons, including prior recovery from COVID-19.” The executive order does not define “personal conscience” or explain what “prior recovery from COVID-19” means in the context of objecting to a COVID-19 vaccine. The order also sets up a maximum fine of $1,000 for failure to comply with the order (although the order is unclear regarding how the fine would be calculated).

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

On August 13, 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration released updated general industry guidance for COVID-19 that is applicable to all workplaces. OSHA’s general industry guidance, which is advisory and creates no binding legal requirements, focuses on unvaccinated workers and others who are “at risk” (i.e., immunocompromised individuals).

OSHA has added additional recommendations that

On March 12, 2021, New York passed a new law requiring all New York employers to provide up to four (4) hours of paid leave for the purposes of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. New York is the first state to implement paid leave specifically limited to time spent getting vaccinated. The law is effective as of March 12, 2021, and the law’s leave entitlement is set to expire on December 31, 2022. In addition to paid leave, the law prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who request or take vaccination leave, or otherwise exercise their rights under the new law.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released long-awaited Guidance this morning regarding permissible activities and relaxed precautions for individuals who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. An individual is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the second shot of a two-dose vaccine (e.g., Pfizer or Moderna), or two weeks after receiving the single-dose vaccine (e.g., Johnson & Johnson).

Specifically, today’s CDC Guidance states that fully vaccinated individuals may:

  • Gather indoors with other fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask;
  • Gather indoors with unvaccinated people from one other household (for example, visiting with relatives who all live together) without masks, unless any of those people or anyone they live with has an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19; and
  • Refrain from quarantine and testing following a known exposure to COVID-19 if asymptomatic.