Webinar: How Arbitration Restrictions Will Affect Employers

Please join me and two of my law partners, Rhonda Klein and Paul Oliver, this Friday, March 4 for a free Webinar in which we will discuss the implications of the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021.

On February 10, 2022, the U.S. Senate joined the House expanding the litigation rights of “Me-Too” harassment victims. The implementation of this legislation will directly impact the way that sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations in the workplace are resolved, how they can be addressed in employment agreements, and, initially, it may increase the number of harassment cases brought in court. Wimberly Lawson believes it is important for our clients to understand the importance and ultimate applications of this bipartisan legislation and how it would affect their individual roles and employers.

To register:

https://wimlaw.us19.list-manage.com/track/click?u=c2eb2ce3e55917cf081f4b573&id=9e506bab95&e=e6f09d75d6

What Does the New #MeToo Inspired Law Mean for Business?

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By Kathleen J. Jennings (kjj@wimlaw.com)

A rare bipartisan effort has brought us a new federal law that was enacted in response to the #MeToo movement. This new law will prohibit companies from forcing employees to use arbitration, rather than the courts, to resolve cases involving sexual harassment or sexual assault in the workplace.

Why do we need this new law? Many people have complained that forced arbitration tends to unfairly favor businesses and keep these types of claims out of the public eye. Businesses generally favor arbitration over jury trials for a number of reasons, including the cost, length of time to resolve claims, and less emotion influencing the result.

As of the effective date of this law, companies will be unable to enforce written arbitration agreements that require employees or former employees to resolve claims of workplace sexual harassment or sexual assault through the arbitration process. This will make these types of claims much more attractive to plaintiff’s lawyers because the monetary value of these cases, especially egregious ones, will increase substantially.

Pro Tip: Now is a good time for businesses to review their policies and procedures that prohibit harassment in the workplace. And when is the last time that you have done any harassment prevention training? It is not enough to talk to employees and managers about harassment at orientation and never bring it up again. Rather, your business should be taking regular affirmative steps to prevent workplace harassment.

Kathleen J. Jennings is an attorney licensed to practice law in Georgia and New York. She graduated from Cornell University, College of Arts & Sciences, with distinction and New York University School of Law. She is a principal in the Atlanta office of Wimberly, Lawson, Steckel, Schneider, & Stine, P.C. and defends employers in employment matters, such as sexual harassment, discrimination, Wage and Hour, OSHA, restrictive covenants, and other employment litigation and provides training and counseling to employers in employment matters. She can be contacted at kjj@wimlaw.com.

Copyright 2022 by Kathleen J. Jennings

The materials available at this blog site are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. Use of and access to this Web site or any of the e-mail links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship between Kathleen J. Jennings and the user or browser. The opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual author.

Although the OSHA ETS is Dead, OSHA Can Still Cite Employers for COVID Related Hazards

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By Kathleen J. Jennings (kjj@wimlaw.com)

Today, the U.S. Department of Labor announced the final nail in the coffin of the OSHA COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS). Specifically, the DOL announced that it will withdraw the COVID ETS, effective January 26, 2022. This comes after the U.S. Supreme Court stayed enforcement of the OSHA ETS on January 13, 2022, which guaranteed the ETS’ demise. Rest In Peace, ETS.

OSHA also wants us to know that although it is withdrawing the vaccination and testing ETS as an enforceable emergency temporary standard, OSHA is not withdrawing the ETS as a proposed rule. OSHA is prioritizing its resources to focus on finalizing a permanent COVID-19 Healthcare Standard. OSHA’s Healthcare ETS expired on December 21, 2021.

In the meantime, employers need to be aware that OSHA can–and will–still cite them for COVID-related hazards in the workplace. Rather than base citations on the ETS, OSHA will fall back on its favorite catch-all regulation: the General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act). Even before the ETS was enacted, OSHA relied upon the General Duty Clause as the basis of COVID-related citations. In addition to the General Duty Clause, OSHA may look for violations of any of the following standards:

  • 29 CFR Part 1904, Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illness.
  • 29 CFR § 1910.132, General Requirements-Personal Protective Equipment.
  • 29 CFR § 1910.134, Respiratory Protection.
  • 29 CFR § 1910.141, Sanitation.
  • 29 CFR § 1910.145, Specification for Accident Prevention Signs and Tags.
  • 29 CFR § 1910.1020, Access to Employee Exposure and Medical Records.

Therefore, employers need to be familiar with the OSHA Guidance, Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace and other industry-specific guidance. Have a written plan of action for COVID-19 as part of your safety program.

We can expect that OSHA Area Offices (AOs) will continue to prioritize inspections of COVID-19-related fatalities, multiple hospitalizations, and other unprogrammed activities alleging potential employee exposures to COVID-19-related hazards. Enforcement of protections for workers in non-healthcare industries will focus on unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated workers, including whether such employees are working indoors or outdoors. Additionally, OSHA will implement programmed inspections targeting those non-healthcare industries where OSHA has previously identified increased enforcement activity, and/or establishments with elevated rates of respiratory illnesses.

The Takeaway: Although OSHA cannot require employers to vaccinate or test their employees, OSHA can require employers to take steps to mitigate the hazards presented by COVID-19 in the workplace. Employers should continue to follow OSHA and CDC guidance that describe how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.

Kathleen J. Jennings is an attorney licensed to practice law in Georgia and New York. She graduated from Cornell University, College of Arts & Sciences, with distinction and New York University School of Law. She is a principal in the Atlanta office of Wimberly, Lawson, Steckel, Schneider, & Stine, P.C. and defends employers in employment matters, such as sexual harassment, discrimination, Wage and Hour, OSHA, restrictive covenants, and other employment litigation and provides training and counseling to employers in employment matters. She can be contacted at kjj@wimlaw.com.

Copyright 2022 by Kathleen J. Jennings

The materials available at this blog site are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. Use of and access to this Web site or any of the e-mail links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship between Kathleen J. Jennings and the user or browser. The opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual author.

The Supreme Court Stays the OSHA ETS; CMS Vaccine Mandate for Healthcare Workers Goes Forward

By Kathleen J. Jennings (kjj@wimlaw.com)

Yesterday, we received decisions from the US Supreme Court on the status of the OSHA COVID-19 ETS and the CMS vaccine mandate for healthcare workers. As I predicted, the OSHA ETS has been stayed, and the CMS mandate has been allowed to go forward.

Why were the two vaccine mandates treated differently? Short answer: the Court found that the fact that CMS has authority to regulate the health and safety of patients gave it authority to issue the vaccine mandate, while the Court also found that OSHA’s authority to issue an ETS to address a “grave danger” in the workplace did not extend to COVID-19. This is a gross oversimplification, but you get the idea.

Many employers with more than 100 employees are breathing a sigh of relief that they are no longer required to engage in the logistically difficult task of regular COVID-19 testing of workers. Employers still need to follow OSHA and CDC guidance regarding COVID-19 precautions such as social distancing and masking. And with the highly contagious nature of the Omicron variant, employers need to take steps to minimize the spread of infection in the workplace for reasons of worker health and to minimize worker absenteeism.

As for employers of healthcare workers, you need to review recent CMS Guidance that provides detailed information on how surveyors will review facilities for compliance with the vaccine mandate.

Kathleen J. Jennings is an attorney licensed to practice law in Georgia and New York. She graduated from Cornell University, College of Arts & Sciences, with distinction and New York University School of Law. She is a principal in the Atlanta office of Wimberly, Lawson, Steckel, Schneider, & Stine, P.C. and defends employers in employment matters, such as sexual harassment, discrimination, Wage and Hour, OSHA, restrictive covenants, and other employment litigation and provides training and counseling to employers in employment matters. She can be contacted at kjj@wimlaw.com.

Copyright 2022 by Kathleen J. Jennings

The materials available at this blog site are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. Use of and access to this Web site or any of the e-mail links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship between Kathleen J. Jennings and the user or browser. The opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual author.

OSHA’s Enforcement of the OSHA COVID-19 Large Employer ETS Starts Today, 1/10. But Will the Supremes Put a Stop to It?

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By Kathleen J. Jennings (kjj@wimlaw.com)

OSHA will begin enforcing the provisions of the OSHA COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) starting today, January 10, 2022. However, it will not issue citations for noncompliance with the standard’s testing requirements before February 9, so long as an employer is exercising reasonable, good faith efforts to come into compliance with the standard. What does the mean for employers with 100 or more employees? If OSHA shows up at your facility, it may ask to see the documentation showing your compliance with the ETS’ requirements for things such as a written vaccination policy and records of employee vaccination status. Alternatively, employees could complain to OSHA that that their employer is not following the OSHA ETS, which is probably the bigger danger right now. Such an employee complaint could trigger an OSHA complaint investigation, which no business wants.

In the meantime, we are watching the U.S. Supreme Court for a decision on the request to stay the ETS from several business groups and states. On Friday, January 7, 2022, the Court heard arguments regarding both the OSHA ETS and the CMS vaccine mandate for healthcare workers. The arguments were live-streamed by the Court, and the questions posed by the various Justices offered a glimpse into how they might rule. After listening to the arguments myself, my best guess is that the Supreme Court will stay the ETS but allow the CMS vaccine mandate to go forward. But we shall see.

Kathleen J. Jennings is an attorney licensed to practice law in Georgia and New York. She graduated from Cornell University, College of Arts & Sciences, with distinction and New York University School of Law. She is a principal in the Atlanta office of Wimberly, Lawson, Steckel, Schneider, & Stine, P.C. and defends employers in employment matters, such as sexual harassment, discrimination, Wage and Hour, OSHA, restrictive covenants, and other employment litigation and provides training and counseling to employers in employment matters. She can be contacted at kjj@wimlaw.com.

Copyright 2022 Kathleen Jennings

The materials available at this blog site are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. Use of and access to this Web site or any of the e-mail links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship between Kathleen J. Jennings and the user or browser. The opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual author.

What Is the Status of the Federal Vaccine Mandates?

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By Kathleen J. Jennings (kjj@wimlaw.com)

Legal challenges to the Biden Administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates are working their way quickly through the federal court system. With new rulings being issued on days, nights and weekends, it is hard to keep with which mandates are stayed and which are not. So here is a quick overview of where we are right now:

The OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS): In Effect (Not Stayed).

The OSHA ETS applies to employers with 100 or more employees and provides that covered employers must enact a policy that requires employee vaccination or weekly COVID testing. On Friday night, December 17, 2021, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati lifted the stay of OSHA’s ETS. A number of parties in the Sixth Circuit proceedings have already filed a joint emergency motion with the U.S. Supreme Court requesting the Court to stay the ETS.

OSHA states that “it will not issue citations for noncompliance with any requirements of the [mandate] before January 10 and will not issue citations for noncompliance with the [mandate’s] testing requirements before February 9, so long as an employer is exercising reasonable, good faith efforts to come into compliance with the standard.” Thus, it is important for covered employers to immediately start making those good faith efforts at compliance with the ETS.

The Federal Contractor Vaccine Mandate: Stayed Nationwide.

The federal government contractor vaccine mandate will become part of federal government contracts and subcontracts, either as part of a new contract or an amendment or renewal of an existing contract. On December 7, 2021, a U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of Georgia entered a nationwide stay of the federal contractor vaccine mandate. This past Friday (12/17), a three judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals denied the government’s motion to dissolve the stay. The 11th Circuit has also set an accelerated briefing schedule on the merits, with the last brief due on January 24, 2022. The same federal judge in Georgia has scheduled a hearing for 12/21 on the government’s motion for him to lift the stay. Whether the government files an emergency appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court remains to be seen.

The CMS Vaccine Mandate for Healthcare Workers: Stayed in 24 states.

This vaccine mandate has been challenged in two separate lawsuits by a total of 24 states. Right now, enforcement of the CMS vaccine mandate is stayed in those 24 states. The government has filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court asking for the stays to be lifted, and the briefing schedule has a deadline of December 30, 2021, so we don’t expect a decision from the Supreme Court before that date. In the meantime, according to its website, CMS “has suspended activities related to the implementation and enforcement of [the mandate] pending future developments in the litigation.”

As you can see, this is a rapidly developing area, so it is important to know which (if any) vaccine mandates apply to your workplace, and whether immediate compliance is necessary.

Kathleen J. Jennings is an attorney licensed to practice law in Georgia and New York. She graduated from Cornell University, College of Arts & Sciences, with distinction and New York University School of Law. She is a principal in the Atlanta office of Wimberly, Lawson, Steckel, Schneider, & Stine, P.C. and defends employers in employment matters, such as sexual harassment, discrimination, Wage and Hour, OSHA, restrictive covenants, and other employment litigation and provides training and counseling to employers in employment matters. She can be contacted at kjj@wimlaw.com.

Copyright 2021 Kathleen Jennings

The materials available at this blog site are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. Use of and access to this Web site or any of the e-mail links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship between Kathleen J. Jennings and the user or browser. The opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual author.

When is COVID-19 Considered a “Disability” Under the ADA?

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By Kathleen J. Jennings (kjj@wimlaw.com)

Today, the EEOC issued some new guidance that purports to clarify circumstances in which COVID-19 may or may not cause effects sufficient to meet the definition of “actual” or “record of” a disability for various purposes under Title I, as well as section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act. However, finding clarity on anything related to the ADA is a challenge, to say the least.

As an initial matter, the EEOC tells us that COVID-19 is not always considered to be a “disability.” Rather, each case must be examined on its own facts.

The ADA’s three-part definition of disability applies to COVID-19 in the same way it applies to any other medical condition. A person can be an individual with a “disability” for purposes of the ADA in one of three ways:

  1. “Actual” Disability: The person has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity (such as walking, talking, seeing, hearing, or learning, or operation of a major bodily function);
  2. “Record of” a Disability: The person has a history or “record of” an actual disability (such as cancer that is in remission); or
  3. “Regarded as” an Individual with a Disability: The person is subject to an adverse action because of an individual’s impairment or an impairment the employer believes the individual has, whether or not the impairment limits or is perceived to limit a major life activity, unless the impairment is objectively both transitory (lasting or expected to last six months or less) and minor.

The ADA uses a case-by-case approach to determine if an applicant or employee meets any one of the three above definitions of “disability.”

How does this apply to COVID-19? Depending on the specific facts involved in an individual employee’s condition, a person with COVID-19 has an actual disability if the person’s medical condition or any of its symptoms is a “physical or mental” impairment that “substantially limits one or more major life activities.” An individualized assessment is necessary to determine whether the effects of a person’s COVID-19 substantially limit a major life activity. This will always be a case-by-case determination that applies existing legal standards to the facts of a particular individual’s circumstances.

Keep in mind that a person infected with the virus causing COVID-19 who is asymptomatic or a person whose COVID-19 results in mild symptoms similar to those of the common cold or flu that resolve in a matter of weeks—with no other consequences—will not have an actual disability within the meaning of the ADA.

Examples of Individuals with an Impairment that Substantially Limits a Major Life Activity:

  • An individual diagnosed with COVID-19 who experiences ongoing but intermittent multiple-day headaches, dizziness, brain fog, and difficulty remembering or concentrating, which the employee’s doctor attributes to the virus, is substantially limited in neurological and brain function, concentrating, and/or thinking, among other major life activities.
  • An individual diagnosed with COVID-19 who initially receives supplemental oxygen for breathing difficulties and has shortness of breath, associated fatigue, and other virus-related effects that last, or are expected to last, for several months, is substantially limited in respiratory function, and possibly major life activities involving exertion, such as walking.
  • An individual who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 experiences heart palpitations, chest pain, shortness of breath, and related effects due to the virus that last, or are expected to last, for several months. The individual is substantially limited in cardiovascular function and circulatory function, among others.
  • An individual diagnosed with “long COVID,” who experiences COVID-19-related intestinal pain, vomiting, and nausea that linger for many months, even if intermittently, is substantially limited in gastrointestinal function, among other major life activities, and therefore has an actual disability under the ADA.

Examples of Individuals with an Impairment that Does Not Substantially Limit a Major Life Activity:

  • An individual who is diagnosed with COVID-19 who experiences congestion, sore throat, fever, headaches, and/or gastrointestinal discomfort, which resolve within several weeks, but experiences no further symptoms or effects, is not substantially limited in a major bodily function or other major life activity, and therefore does not have an actual disability under the ADA. This is so even though this person is subject to CDC guidance for isolation during the period of infectiousness.
  • An individual who is infected with the virus causing COVID-19 but is asymptomatic—that is, does not experience any symptoms or effects—is not substantially limited in a major bodily function or other major life activity, and therefore does not have an actual disability under the ADA. This is the case even though this person is still subject to CDC guidance for isolation during the period of infectiousness.
  • As noted above, even if the symptoms of COVID-19 occur intermittently, they will be deemed to substantially limit a major life activity if they are substantially limiting when active, based on an individualized assessment.

To further complicate matters, in some cases, regardless of whether an individual’s initial case of COVID-19 itself constitutes an actual disability, an individual’s COVID-19 may end up causing impairments that are themselves disabilities under the ADA. For example:

  • An individual who had COVID-19 develops heart inflammation. This inflammation itself may be an impairment that substantially limits a major bodily function, such as the circulatory function, or other major life activity, such as lifting.
  • During the course of COVID-19, an individual suffers an acute ischemic stroke. Due to the stroke, the individual may be substantially limited in neurological and brain (or cerebrovascular) function.
  • After an individual’s COVID-19 resolves, the individual develops diabetes attributed to the COVID-19. This individual should easily be found to be substantially limited in the major life activity of endocrine function.

In some cases, an individual’s COVID-19 may also worsen the individual’s pre-existing condition that was not previously substantially limiting, making that impairment now substantially limiting. For example:

  • An individual initially has a heart condition that is not substantially limiting. The individual is infected with COVID-19. The COVID-19 worsens the person’s heart condition so that the condition now substantially limits the person’s circulatory function.

The situations in which an employer might “regard” an applicant or employee with COVID-19 as an individual with a disability are varied. Some examples include:

  • An employer would regard an employee as having a disability if the employer fires the individual because the employee had symptoms of COVID-19, which, although minor, lasted or were expected to last more than six months. The employer could not show that the impairment was both transitory and minor.
  • An employer would regard an employee as having a disability if the employer fires the individual for having COVID-19, and the COVID-19, although lasting or expected to last less than six months, caused non-minor symptoms. In these circumstances, the employer could not show that the impairment was both transitory and minor.

It is possible that an employer may not have engaged in unlawful discrimination under the ADA even if the employer took an adverse action based on an impairment. For example, an individual still needs to be qualified for the job held or desired. Additionally, in some instances, an employer may have a defense to an action taken on the basis of the impairment. For example, the ADA’s “direct threat” defense could permit an employer to require an employee with COVID-19 or its symptoms to refrain from physically entering the workplace during the CDC-recommended period of isolation, due to the significant risk of substantial harm to the health of others.

Of course, an employer risks violating the ADA if it relies on myths, fears, or stereotypes about a condition to disallow the employee’s return to work once the employee is no longer infectious and, therefore, medically able to return without posing a direct threat to others.

The Takeaway: Most people who become sick with COVID-19 are not going to have a “disability” as defined by the ADA. However, there is a small subset of people, such as the “COVID long-haulers” who may be affected by COVID-19 to such an extent that they have a disability, as defined by the ADA, and therefore, those folks are protected from unlawful discrimination. This should be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Kathleen J. Jennings is an attorney licensed to practice law in Georgia and New York. She graduated from Cornell University, College of Arts & Sciences, with distinction and New York University School of Law. She is a principal in the Atlanta office of Wimberly, Lawson, Steckel, Schneider, & Stine, P.C. and defends employers in employment matters, such as sexual harassment, discrimination, Wage and Hour, OSHA, restrictive covenants, and other employment litigation and provides training and counseling to employers in employment matters. She can be contacted at kjj@wimlaw.com.

Copyright 2021 Kathleen Jennings

The materials available at this blog site are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. Use of and access to this Web site or any of the e-mail links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship between Kathleen J. Jennings and the user or browser. The opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual author.

WIMBERLY LAWSON LAW FIRM SELECTED TO BRING NATIONAL LITIGATION OVER VACCINE MANDATE

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On December 7, 2021, U.S. District Judge Stan Baker of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, granted a nationwide injunction staying enforcement of the federal government contractor vaccine mandate. The law firm of Wimberly, Lawson, Steckel, Schneider & Stine, P.C. represented the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), a trade group representing employers (including Federal contractors) in the construction trades, that was granted permission to participate in the case as an intervenor. It is likely that ABC’s presence in a case brought by the State of Georgia as well as the states of Alabama, Idaho, Kansas, South Carolina, Utah, and West Virginia was the deciding factor in the Court’s decision to issue a nationwide injunction as opposed to an injunction touching only the states that are parties to the action because, as the Court noted, “not only is the geographic scope of ABC’s membership broad, their involvement in federal contracts is as well.”

Major news outlets are reporting that several prominent law firms were reluctant to represent their clients in the multitude of legal challenges to the Biden Administration’s vaccine testing mandates. These reports suggest that these big firms had clients who both supported and opposed the mandates: this raised sensitive client and public relations issues.

But, as they say, in every crisis there is opportunity. One consequence of the big firms’ decision to sit this one out is that Wimberly Lawson was tapped by the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), a trade group representing employers (including Federal contractors) in the construction trades, to make the case for their industry. Wimberly Lawson’s attorneys have had the kind of experience handling complex labor and employment law matters that makes the firm uniquely suited to handle these types of multifaceted constitutional issues that affect millions of employers and workers. The Wimberly Lawson team was led by Larry Stine and included Kathleen Jennings, Elizabeth Dorminey and Jim Hughes. In addition, the Firm is currently involved with the petition for review related to the OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The essential question presented in the challenge to Executive Order 14042, the federal contractor vaccine mandate, was whether the president can use congressionally delegated authority to manage the federal procurement of goods and services to impose vaccines on the employees of federal contractors and subcontractors. U.S. District Judge Stan Baker of the Southern District of Georgia ruled that it is likely that the president cannot, and he granted a nationwide preliminary injunction of the enforcement of the vaccine mandate for federal government contractors.

Judge Baker spent a full day hearing evidence and arguments from the parties (yours truly was there). What became clear from the witnesses presented by the state—representatives of the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, and Augusta University, was how much time and money they already had spent working to come into compliance with the federal contractor vaccine mandate, and how much they stood to lose it they were unable to reach full compliance (the three institutions’ federal contracts generated approximately $736,968,899.00 in revenue in fiscal year 2021). ABC presented evidence showing that at least two of its members “intended to bid” on specified upcoming federal construction projects, but, following EO 14042, have concluded that it is not practical for them to do so because they likely will not have sufficient employees to perform the job if they enter into a contract that requires all of the covered employees to be vaccinated.

One of the factors that has made compliance with the federal contractor mandate so difficult is the sheer breadth of the mandate; the mandate covers not only persons who are working on federal government contractors, but also persons with whom they come into contact. That factor, alone, makes it a challenge to identify all workers who are “covered” by the mandate. In addition, subcontractors at all tiers are also covered by the mandate unless the subcontract provides only for services.

Judge Baker rejected the federal government’s argument that the states and ABC lacked standing to bring the lawsuit because the Plaintiffs had not “provide[d] [any] evidence that they are (1) parties to a federal contract that already has the challenged clause; or (2) parties to an existing covered contract that is up for an option, extension, or renewal that must include the clause,” and that they have not “identif[ied] any specific, covered solicitations that they plan to bid on or contracts that they plan to enter into in the immediate future.” Judge Baker found that Plaintiff Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia has standing because it has shown that one of its institutions (Georgia Tech) is a finalist for a contract with NASA and it has been advised that, if it is awarded the contract, the at-issue clause must be included in the contract. ABC also provided evidence—using information gathered from the General Services Administration’s Website for federal contracts—that the federal government frequently and routinely issues solicitations and pre-solicitations for bids on Case 1:21-cv-00163-RSB-BKE Document 94 Filed 12/07/21 Page 14 of 28 15 construction contracts (which ABC’s members would normally bid on and be qualified to perform) that would be covered by EO 14042. Judge Baker also noted that Article III standing would exist based on the ample evidence showing that the State Plaintiffs (including many of their agencies) and members of ABC routinely enter into contracts that would be covered by EO 14042,6 have current contracts that could easily fall under the requirements of EO 14042 (if, for instance, they are renewed, modified, or have options that are exercised), and have shown that they would typically continue to seek out contract opportunities with the federal government that now will be covered by EO 14042.

Judge Baker held that the Plaintiff States and ABC were likely to succeed on the merits because the Procurement Act does not authorize the President to issue a vaccine mandate. While the authority of the President to manage the government procurement process is unquestionably broad, it is not without limitations. To that end, the Court found that Plaintiff States and ABC have a likelihood of proving that Congress, through the language it used, did not clearly authorize the President to issue the kind of mandate contained in EO 14042, as EO 14042 goes far beyond addressing administrative and management issues in order to promote efficiency and economy in procurement and contracting, and instead, in application, works as a regulation of public health, which is not clearly authorized under the Procurement Act.

The Court also distinguished a decision issued by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals just the day before that denied a preliminary injunction in the State of Florida’s challenge to the vaccine mandate for healthcare workers. The Medicare and Medicaid regulatory scheme being challenged in the Florida case is significantly different from the federal contractor process. Moreover, the Court noted, “[f]or both the Medicare and Medicaid programs, Congress charged the Secretary with ensuring that participating facilities protect the health and safety of their patients,” and the at-issue interim rule issued by the Secretary “amend[ed] the infection control regulations for facilities that participate in Medicare or Medicaid . . . [to] require[] that facilities certified to participate in Medicare or Medicaid ensure their staff are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, unless an employee is exempt . . .” In other words, Congress gave the Secretary of HHS explicit authority to protect health and safety; the Procurement Act contains no such authority.

Although we all acknowledge the value of vaccines, the issuance of the federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates appears to be an attempt by the current administration to take a controversial action “for the greater good.” If anything, the wide ranging mandates provided some cover to employers that were seeking to vaccinate a larger proportion of their workforces but were hesitant to mandate vaccination themselves for fear of losing valuable employees. And perhaps that was the actual intent of these measures—to promote more employee vaccinations for as long as the mandates could withstand judicial challenges. However, as the Supreme Court said in Alabama Ass’n of Realtors, “[i]t is indisputable that the public has a strong interest in combating the spread of the COVID–19[;]” however, “our system does not permit agencies to act unlawfully even in pursuit of desirable ends.” Ala. Ass’n of Realtors v. Dept. of Health and Human Servs., 141 S. Ct. 2485 at 2490 (2021).

Update on the COVID ETS: It Has Been Stayed. But for How Long?

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By Kathleen J. Jennings (kjj@wimlaw.com)

As noted in my blog post last week, it was expected that there would be many challenges to the COVID Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS). Those challenges were filed very quickly, and on Saturday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals stayed enforcement of the ETS based on “grave statutory and constitutional issues.”

Multiple lawsuits have been filed in multiple federal Circuits challenging the ETS. The federal rules for multi-circuit litigation provide for the cases to be consolidated and heard by one court that is initially chosen by a lottery. The Court selected to hear the cases can decide whether to keep the stay in place or lift it. [Update–the lottery is scheduled to be held on November 16].

Where does this leave us? With a great deal of uncertainty, at least until we find out which Court will handle this issue. In the meantime, companies subject to the ETS should continue their preparations to comply with its provisions.

And of course, I’ll keep you posted on further developments.

Kathleen J. Jennings is an attorney licensed to practice law in Georgia and New York. She graduated from Cornell University, College of Arts & Sciences, with distinction and New York University School of Law. She is a principal in the Atlanta office of Wimberly, Lawson, Steckel, Schneider, & Stine, P.C. and defends employers in employment matters, such as sexual harassment, discrimination, Wage and Hour, OSHA, restrictive covenants, and other employment litigation and provides training and counseling to employers in employment matters. She can be contacted at kjj@wimlaw.com.

Copyright 2021 Kathleen Jennings

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