Be Prepared For Increase In COVID-19 Inspections Under OSHA’s New National Emphasis Program

Posted in Employment Counseling & Workplace Claims Prevention, Workplace Safety & OSHA

On March 12, 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced a new National Emphasis Program (NEP) designed to significantly reduce worker exposure to COVID-19 by targeting industries and worksites where employees may have a high frequency of close-contact exposures. The new NEP on COVID-19 has two main components:

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New COBRA Obligations for Employers Included in Biden’s $1.9 Trillion Stimulus

Posted in Employee Benefits

For employers with group health plans, COBRA obligations under President Biden’s premiere $1.9 trillion stimulus legislation, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (the “Rescue Plan”) are an early priority. The Rescue Plan was signed by the President on March 11, 2021. Below is an overview of the Rescue Plan’s COBRA relief, which provides a 6-month, 100% premium subsidy for eligible employees who lose group health insurance as a result of either an involuntary termination or a reduction in hours.

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Do the Business Liability Shield Laws Give Employers Immunity From COVID-19 Lawsuits

Posted in Employee Handbooks & Policies, Employment Counseling & Workplace Claims Prevention, Employment Litigation, Medical & Other Leaves, Workplace Safety & OSHA

Not really. Like the COVID-19 vaccines, these “business liability shields” may provide a layer of protection for some employers, but they in no way guarantee immunity from lawsuits. Since early last year, business leaders expressed concerns about continuing with operations amidst the COVID-19 pandemic—mainly because they feared exposing their businesses to lawsuits arising from the transmission of the virus. Indeed, it was this growing business concern that caused Congress to propose the SAFE TO WORK Act (S. 4327) in July 2020. Although the bill ultimately did not pass, many states (30 and counting) have enacted some form of legal protections from COVID-19 liability claims through either legislation or executive orders.

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What Employers Should Do Based on the Revisions to the EEOC’s Compliance Manual Section on Religious Discrimination

Posted in Employee Handbooks & Policies, Employment Counseling & Workplace Claims Prevention, Employment Discrimination Harassment & Retaliation

Employers have new obligations and employees have new rights under the EEOC’s newly finalized revisions to the agency’s Compliance Manual Section on Religious Discrimination. The Compliance Manual does not have the force of law, but sets forth how the EEOC analyzes claims under the law, and provides useful guidance to employers. Although a large portion of the Religious Discrimination Section of the Manual remains the same, there are a few noteworthy changes for employers to consider. Further, with the increasing number of available COVID-19 vaccinations, employers may be left wondering how to balance workplace safety, while making the necessary accommodations for employees who have sincerely held religious beliefs preventing them from getting vaccinated. Continue Reading

COVID Infections May Be Down But COVID Lawsuits Are Up: What Employers Should Consider

Posted in Employment Counseling & Workplace Claims Prevention, Employment Discrimination Harassment & Retaliation, Workplace Safety & OSHA

It comes as no surprise that employee claims against employers are on the rise. In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a drastic decline in newly filed employment-related lawsuits. The decline was likely the result of shelter-in-place orders and other restrictions on working in the workplace. However, the months of November 2020 and December 2020 saw a spike of more than a 17% increase in new employment cases, as compared to the same time period in 2019, according to Lex Machina, which provides legal analytics. States seeing the highest number of new filings include New York, California, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Texas.

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New Guidance from DOL Regarding the Suspension of Certain Employee Benefit Plan Deadlines Due to COVID-19

Posted in Employee Benefits, Employment Counseling & Workplace Claims Prevention

Last minute guidance affects employers sponsoring group health plans, and answers a much-discussed question as we approach the one-year anniversary of  past COVID guidance.  Today the Department of Labor issued long-awaited guidance concerning whether certain employee benefit plan deadlines will continue to be suspended or whether the clock begins ticking again as of March 1, 2021.  As we explain, the answer is, well, kind of both.

Past Guidance

Last year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Labor, in conjunction with the Department of Treasury, issued guidance and a rule that extended certain timeframes otherwise applicable under ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code (Code).  The goal was to provide enhanced flexibility in an era of unknowns.  Specifically, the Departments ordered all group health plans, disability and other employee welfare benefit plans, and employee pension benefit plans subject to ERISA or the Code to “disregard” the period from March 1, 2020 until sixty (60) days after the announced end of the National Emergency due to COVID-19 or such other date announced by the Departments in a future notification (the “Outbreak Period”) for certain specified actions.

This action was taken by the Departments pursuant to their statutory authority under ERISA section 518 and Code section 7508A, which permits them to prescribe a period of up to one year that may be disregarded in determining the date by which any action is required or permitted to be completed by an employee benefit plan, plan sponsor, plan administrator, participant or beneficiary. Continue Reading

Is There A New Requirement To Pay Employees on Military Leave?

Posted in Employment Discrimination Harassment & Retaliation, Medical & Other Leaves, Wage & Hour

A few recent cases may have savvy employers rethinking their military leave policies and choosing to pay employees on short-term military leave to the same extent they voluntarily pay employees benefits for other leaves of absence, such as jury duty, bereavement, and sick leave.

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Employees Starting to Receive the COVID-19 Vaccine – Now What?

Posted in Employment Counseling & Workplace Claims Prevention, Workplace Safety & OSHA

Despite some employees receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, employers should still require workers to wear face coverings and remain physically distant to help prevent the spread of the virus, according to updated guidance by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

According to Bloomberg’s COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker, as of February 14, 2021, 53.8 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine had been administered in the United States with more than 173 million across 77 countries. But multiple sources make clear that even after an individual receives the COVID-19 vaccine, it is important to continue the COVID-19 precautions implemented at the onset of the pandemic.

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Non-Union Employers Beware: The NLRB Pendulum is Pushed Pro-Union

Posted in Employment Counseling & Workplace Claims Prevention, Labor Relations

Employers that want to maintain non-union status must be aware of the significant and rapid shift of the NLRB toward pro-union positions. Everyone expected the NLRB pendulum to swing pro-union, but few observers expected the pendulum to be immediately and forcibly pushed as it has been. First was the prompt and unprecedented ousting of the General Counsel and Deputy General Counsel, and appointment of an extremely labor-friendly Acting General Counsel. Although the appointment of a pro-union General Counsel was expected, the speed with which the Acting General Counsel dispatched prior NLRB policy memoranda was the second surprise. The swift rescission of policy memoranda is likely just the tip of the iceberg.

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Employers Should Confirm that 2020 FFCRA Wages Were Properly Reported

Posted in Employee Benefits, Medical & Other Leaves, Wage & Hour

Employers were required to distribute and file Forms W-2 by February 1. To the extent they have not already done so, employers should confirm that any leave wages paid in 2020 pursuant to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) were properly reported on Forms W-2.

The Internal Revenue Service provided guidance concerning reporting of FFCRA leave wages in Notice 2020-54.

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