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.

Get Ready–the U.S. Supreme Court is Going to Hear Arguments on the OSHA ETS and the CMS Vaccine Mandate

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

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will hold a special session on January 7, 2022 to hear arguments regarding whether to stay the OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) vaccine or test rule and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) vaccine mandate for healthcare workers. It is unusual for the Court to hear arguments (rather than just read briefs) on the issue of a stay, so this should be interesting. We expect the Court to rule soon after it hears arguments. Employers covered by the OSHA ETS are certainly hoping for a quick ruling; the ETS is scheduled to go into effect on January 4, 2022, though the agency has said it would not start issuing citations before January 10, 2022. Talk about cutting things close. In the meantime, prudent covered employers should continue to prepare policies and testing protocols to be ready for the implementation of the ETS.

The Court’s ruling should give us a pretty good idea as to whether the Court would find either or both vaccine mandates lawful exercises of the federal government’s powers. One of the considerations in a request for a stay or injunction is “likelihood of success on the merits.” So if the Court enters a stay, that is an indication that it believes that the challengers to the vaccine mandates are likely to succeed on the merits of their challenges.

Will the Supreme Court give employers a late Christmas present? Stay tuned for further developments.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to All!

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.

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.

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

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.

Does Your Company Need to Comply with Vaccine and Safety Protocols Applicable to Federal Contractors?  

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

On September 9, 2021, President Biden signed Executive Order 14042, Ensuring Adequate COVID Safety Protocols for Federal Contractors, which directs executive departments and agencies, including independent establishments subject to the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act, 40 U.S.C. § 102(4)(A), to ensure that covered contracts and contract-like instruments include a clause that the contractor and any subcontractors (at any tier) shall incorporate into lower-tier subcontracts. This clause shall specify that the contractor or subcontractor shall, for the duration of the contract, comply with all guidance for contractor or subcontractor workplace locations published by the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force.


The term “contract” is quite broad and is defined as an agreement between two or more parties creating obligations that are enforceable at law. Of course, one of the parties has to be the federal government. This includes all contracts and any subcontracts of any tier thereunder, whether negotiated or advertised, including any procurement actions, lease agreements, cooperative agreements, provider agreements, regardless of nomenclature, type, or particular form, and whether entered into verbally or in writing.


It is important to note that the requirements in the order apply to subcontractors at all tiers, except for subcontracts solely for the provision of products. For example, if the company produces a product and sells it to a broker who sells to the federal government, that company is not covered. The prime contractor must flow the clause down to first-tier subcontractors; higher-tier subcontractors must flow the clause down to the next lower-tier subcontractor, to the point at which subcontract requirements are solely for the provision of products. Therefore, even if your company does not contract directly with the federal government, if you are a subcontractor of a company that contracts with the federal government, these requirements may eventually flow down to your contract.


In addition, there is language in the Task Force Guidance that appears to encourage contracting officers to incorporate the new EO 14042 mandatory vaccination clause in contracts that are not covered by the EO:
“Consistent with applicable law, agencies are strongly encouraged to incorporate a clause requiring compliance with this Guidance into contracts that are not covered or directly addressed by the order because the contract is under the Simplified Acquisition Threshold as defined in section 2.101 of the FAR [Federal Acquisition Regulations] or is a contract or subcontract for the manufacturing of products. Agencies are also strongly encouraged to incorporate a clause requiring compliance with this Guidance into existing contracts and contract-like instruments prior to the date upon which the order requires inclusion of the clause.”


What this means is that all federal contractors and subcontractors need to carefully review their new and updated contracts to see if the clause concerning COVID safety protocols and testing has been included.


Federal contractors and subcontractors with a covered contract will be required to conform to the following workplace safety protocols:

  1. COVID-19 vaccination of covered contractor employees, except in limited circumstances where an employee is legally entitled to an accommodation;
  2. Compliance by individuals, including covered contractor employees and visitors, with the Guidance related to masking and physical distancing while in covered contractor workplaces; and
  3. Designation by covered contractors of a person or persons to coordinate COVID-19 workplace safety efforts at covered contractor workplaces.


Covered contractor employees must be fully vaccinated no later than January 4, 2022. After that date, all covered contractor employees must be fully vaccinated by the first day of the period of performance on a newly awarded covered contract, and by the first day of the period of performance on an exercised option or extended or renewed contract when the clause has been incorporated into the covered contract.


And covered contractors must verify the vaccination status of employees. Covered contractors must require covered contractor employees to show or provide their employer with one of the following documents: a copy of the record of immunization from a health care provider or pharmacy, a copy of the COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card, a copy of medical records documenting the vaccination, a copy of immunization records from a public health or State immunization information system, or a copy of any other official documentation verifying vaccination with information on the vaccine name, date(s) of administration, and the name of health care professional or clinic site administering vaccine. Covered contractors may allow covered contractor employees to show or provide to their employer a digital copy of such records, including, for example, a digital photograph, scanned image, or PDF of such a record. Which means that an employee can satisfy this requirement with a picture of his/her vaccination card on his/her smartphone.


Here are some interesting aspects of this rule that contractors need to be aware of:

  • Unlike the expected Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) that will apply to private employers with more than 100 employees, there is no allowance for employee testing in lieu of vaccination in the government contractor rule.
  • Covered contractor employees who have had a prior COVID-19 infection are nevertheless required to be vaccinated.
  • A covered contractor cannot accept a recent antibody test from a covered contractor employee to prove vaccination status.
  • Covered contractors must comply with the requirements set forth in the order regardless of whether they are subject to other workplace safety standards. In other words, compliance with an OSHA ETS or state law requirements may not satisfy a contractor’s requirements under this order.

Timing: A phase-in of the requirements for covered contracts is as follows:

• Contracts awarded prior to October 15 where performance is ongoing – the requirements must be incorporated at the point at which an option is exercised or an extension is made.

• New contracts – the requirements must be incorporated into contracts awarded on or after November 14. Between October 15 and November 14, agencies must include the clause in the solicitation and are encouraged to include the clause in contracts awarded during this time period but are not required to do so unless the solicitation for such contract was issued on or after October 15.

Not surprisingly, eleven states have already filed challenges to this rule. In the meantime, however, if your contract has the COVID requirements clause, you’ll need to comply with it.

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.

The OSHA COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard is Here. What You need to Know.

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

The Biden Administration promised us a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, and today it arrived for private employers of 100 or more employees. [There is also a mandate for federal contractors and another for healthcare workers, but we are not going to talk about those in this post.]

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued an emergency temporary standard (ETS) that purports to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission in the workplace. This ETS applies to private employers with 100 or more employees firm- or corporate-wide.

The ETS requires covered employers to do the following:

  • Develop, implement, and enforce a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy, with an exception for employers that instead establish, implement, and enforce a policy allowing employees to elect either to get vaccinated or to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing and wear a face covering at the workplace.
  • Determine the vaccination status of each employee, obtain acceptable proof of vaccination from vaccinated employees, maintain records of each employee’s vaccination status, and maintain a roster of each employee’s vaccination status.
  • Support vaccination by providing employees reasonable time, including up to four hours of paid time, to receive each primary vaccination dose, and reasonable time and paid sick leave to recover from any side effects experienced following each primary vaccination dose.
  • Ensure that each employee who is not fully vaccinated is tested for COVID-19 at least weekly (if in the workplace at least once a week) or within 7 days before returning to work (if away from the workplace for a week or longer). Boosters are not currently required.
  • Require employees to promptly provide notice when they receive a positive COVID-19 test or are diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • Immediately remove from the workplace any employee, regardless of vaccination status, who received a positive COVID-19 test or is diagnosed with COVID-19 by a licensed healthcare provider, and keep the employee out of the workplace until return to work criteria are met.
  • Ensure that each employee who is not fully vaccinated wears a face covering when indoors or when occupying a vehicle with another person for work purposes, except in certain limited circumstances.
  • Provide each employee with information, in a language and at a literacy level the employee understands, about the requirements of the ETS and workplace policies and procedures established to implement the ETS; vaccine efficacy, safety, and the benefits of being vaccinated (by providing the CDC document “Key Things to Know About COVID-19 Vaccines”); protections against retaliation and discrimination; and laws that provide for criminal penalties for knowingly supplying false statements or documentation.
  • Report work-related COVID-19 fatalities to OSHA within 8 hours of learning about them, and work-related COVID-19 in-patient hospitalizations within 24 hours of the employer learning about the hospitalization.

Deadlines:

December 5, 2021: Employers must have their compliance program in place, offer paid time off for vaccinations, and require unvaccinated workers to wear masks.

January 4, 2022: The deadline for workers to be vaccinated or start being tested.

Penalties for non-compliance:

This ETS is enforced by OSHA. Each “serious” violation of the standard could result in a maximum fine of $13,653. The cap for willful or repeat violations is $136,532. However, the Build Back Better Act, if it becomes law, would raise maximum fines for all OSHA rules to $70,000 for serious violations and $700,000 for willful or repeat violations.

Other items of interest:

Note that where an employee chooses to remain unvaccinated, the ETS does not require employers to pay for the costs associated with regular COVID-19 testing or the use of face coverings. In some cases, employers may be required to pay testing and/or face covering costs under other federal or state laws or collective bargaining obligations, and some may choose to do so even without such a mandate, but otherwise employees will be required to bear the costs if they choose to be regularly tested and wear a face covering in lieu of vaccination.

The ETS states that it preempts state and local laws governing COVID vaccinations and precautions.

This is a temporary standard (it will expire in 6 months), and it may be subject to change. Furthermore, we expect many challenges to the standard and OSHA’s authority to issue it. Stay tuned for 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

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 EEOC Updated Its COVID Vaccination Guidance and Confirmed What We Already Knew About Political Objections to Vaccination

Photo by Gustavo Fring on Pexels.com

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

Yesterday, the EEOC updated its Guidance regarding COVID-19, specifically addressing employee religious objections to employer vaccination policies. What we learned is something we pretty much already knew; at least, it is the advice that we have been giving to clients, namely, that a political objection to vaccination is not protected by Title VII.

Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on religion. This includes a right for job applicants and employees to request an exception, called a religious or reasonable accommodation, from an employer requirement that conflicts with their sincerely held religious beliefs, practices, or observances. If an employer shows that it cannot reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs, practices, or observances without undue hardship on its operations, the employer is not required to grant the accommodation.

The EEOC reminds us that definition of “religion” under Title VII protects nontraditional religious beliefs that may be unfamiliar to employers. While the employer should not assume that a request is invalid simply because it is based on unfamiliar religious beliefs, employees may be asked to explain the religious nature of their belief and should not assume that the employer already knows or understands it. By contrast, Title VII does not protect social, political, or economic views, or personal preferences. Thus, objections to COVID-19 vaccination that are based on social, political, or personal preferences, or on nonreligious concerns about the possible effects of the vaccine, do not qualify as “religious beliefs” under Title VII.

That’s right, political objections to vaccines are not protected by Title VII. We already knew that, but it is nice to hear from the EEOC.

The EEOC also tells us that when making a request for a religious accommodation, employees do not need to use any “magic words,” such as “religious accommodation” or “Title VII.” However, they need to notify the employer that there is a conflict between their sincerely held religious beliefs and the employer’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement. Then the employer and employer must engage in the “interactive process” to determine if a reasonable accommodation exists.

It is important for employees to understand that a request for a religious exception from a vaccination requirement does not mean that the employee receives an automatic pass. In some cases, the employer may not be able to accommodate an employee’s refusal to take a vaccination without creating an undue hardship to its business. Courts have found Title VII undue hardship where, for example, the religious accommodation would impair workplace safety, diminish efficiency in other jobs, or cause coworkers to carry the accommodated employee’s share of potentially hazardous or burdensome work.

Pro Tip: Any employer that requires its employees to be vaccinated (either because the law requires it or otherwise) should develop a form that employees and applicants can utilize to request a religious or medical exemption to vaccination.

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