CDC Issues Updated Guidance on COVID-19

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) held a telebriefing (transcript to be uploaded when available) today at 2:00 p.m. CST to provide updated guidance on the COVID-19 pandemic in light of the prevalence of the highly contagious Delta variant. They key points of the CDC’s updated guidance include:

  • New data shows that the COVID-19 Delta variant behaves uniquely differently from the original Alpha variant. Therefore, some vaccinated people who contract the variant can be contagious and spread the disease.
  • The CDC continues to urge all Americans to get vaccinated, emphasizing that increasing the percentage of the population that is fully vaccinated is key to defeating COVID-19 variants.
  • The CDC’s guidance for unvaccinated individuals remains the same: continue masking until you are fully vaccinated.
  • The CDC further recommends that fully vaccinated individuals in areas of high or substantial COVID-19 transmission wear masks indoors and in public spaces.
  • The CDC notes that some fully vaccinated persons may choose to wear masks regardless of level of transmission in their area if they or members of their household are immunocompromised, at increased risk of severe disease, or not fully vaccinated.
  • The CDC recommends that everyone in K-12 school settings (including teachers, staff, students, and visitors) wear masks, regardless of vaccination status. The CDC continues to support in-person learning for all students.
  • Leaders in areas of high or substantial COVID-19 transmission should encourage vaccination and universal mask-wearing.

The CDC will continue to update its guidance as necessary in accordance with scientific data or other relevant developments.

Lake Effect is here to answer your questions about COVID-related guidance. We continue to closely monitor important legal and HR developments in this area, including updates from federal, state, and local authorities. Please keep watching our blogs and emails for these important updates, as well as discussions of how compliance meets culture. To dive deeper into these issues, contact us at info@le-hrlaw.com or 1-844-333-5253.

Maintaining a Respectful Workplace Post-COVID

While some organizations have been on site through the pandemic, others have returned in recent months. Many others are planning a more robust employee return to office in the coming weeks. As more employees return to work in the office, employers may need to reestablish and remind employees about expectations of workplace conduct to foster and maintain a respectful workplace.

While employees have been working virtually, it is likely that their work clothes have become more casual, morning routines have become less regimented, and communications with coworkers have become more informal as they connected from their homes. Employers may want to review, revise, and remind employees about dress code and attendance policies. Further, employers should grant grace during the return, as employees navigate at-home responsibilities, commute times, new health and safety changes to their work environment, and their own well-being.

While the return may be welcome for some, others may struggle. Employees may experience micro-rejections and awkward moments deciding whether to hug, shake hands, or maintain social distancing with coworkers and others. Office banter may become more casual now that video calls introduced us to our coworkers’ personal lives outside the workplace. At the same time, in-person interactions may be stilted after months of virtual exchanges. This is the time for managers – and coworkers – to refine their empathic leadership and listening skills to understand the needs of others, and be sensitive to their feelings and thoughts.

There may also be times employees become upset with one another, feel hurt, over-share, delve into personal information (including vaccination status and health conditions), or even pass judgment on mask wearing or vaccination status. At its worst, there is a risk that these interactions may be perceived as harassment or discrimination. Consider scheduling your annual respectful workplace training to remind employees of appropriate workplace conduct to prevent harassment and discrimination. Keep in mind that the EEOC recommends employers provide such training on an annual basis, in person, and provided by an experienced trainer.

Lake Effect is here to answer your questions about empathic leadership and respectful workplace training. We continue to monitor important legal and HR developments, as well as COVID-related updates from federal, state, and local authorities. Please keep watching our blogs and emails for these important updates, as well as discussions of how compliance meets culture. To dive into these issues, contact us at info@le-hrlaw.com or 1-844-333-5253.

Long Awaited OSHA Guidance to Continue Workplace Health and Safety Measures

On June 10, 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) with a very narrow scope, focused on the healthcare industry. Fortunately, OSHA also updated its January 29, 2021 guidance for all employers to reflect the increasing prevalence of vaccinations and the lifting of mask orders around the country. (See our prior blog on the January guidance here.) This new guidance provides a helpful reminder for employers to remain steadfast in their many COVID-related health and safety efforts.

As with the January update, this new guidance is not a standard or regulation, and creates no new legal obligations. Nonetheless, it will likely be one yardstick used to measure compliance with OSHA’s “General Duty Clause,” which requires employers to provide workers with a workplace free from recognized hazards that cause or are likely to cause death or serious harm.

The new guidance specifies ways to protect unvaccinated and other at-risk employees, mitigate the spread of COVID, and encourage vaccinations, including the following:

  • Encourage employees to get vaccinated (See Lake Effect’s prior blog on this issue)
  • Provide employees with paid time off to get vaccinated (See Lake Effect’s prior blog on EPSL leaves for employees to receive or recover from COVID vaccinations)
  • Require unvaccinated employees (and visitors) who are exposed to or experiencing symptoms of COVID to stay home and seek treatment
  • Maintain workplace safety measures for unvaccinated and at-risk workers including physical distancing, physical barriers, reduced employee density in spaces, flexible or staggered work schedules, alternative meeting options, remote work, and the like
  • Provide proper masks to unvaccinated and at-risk workers when working indoors. OSHA noted that unvaccinated persons who are not otherwise at-risk do not need to wear a mask outdoors, unless otherwise required by federal, state, or local requirements
  • Educate and train employees on COVID preventive measures and practices
  • Encourage unvaccinated visitors, clients, and guests to wear masks when onsite
  • Maintain ventilation systems to minimize transmission and spread of COVID
  • Follow CDC cleaning and disinfection recommendations
  • Implement a process for employees to anonymously express concerns about COVID safety practices and ensure that they are not discriminated or retaliated against in any way
  • Record and report COVID infections and deaths consistent with applicable OSHA requirements (See Lake Effect’s blogs on this issue)

Employers should work closely with legal counsel to understand all requirements and implement a COVID-19 workplace prevention program consistent with this new OSHA guidance and any applicable local guidance and orders. Lake Effect is here to help you through this process and ensure that you are taking all possible steps to provide a workplace free from the recognized hazards created by the COVID.

We continue to monitor important legal and HR developments, as well as COVID-related updates from federal, state, and local authorities. Please keep watching our blogs and emails for these important updates, as well as discussions of how compliance meets culture. To dive into these issues, contact us at info@le-hrlaw.com or 1-844-333-5253

Mask mandates end, but employers have options

With mask orders lifting around the country, many employers are left wondering what to do in their own workplace. In most communities, employers have several options, including the following:

  • Remove all masking requirements in your workplace or place of business
  • Require all employees and visitors to wear masks at all times
  • Allow fully vaccinated employees and visitors to be maskless, but require unvaccinated employees and visitors to wear masks
  • Allow employees and visitors to report their vaccination status using the honor system
  • Require employees and visitors to provide proof of vaccination status, cautioning them to provide only vaccination documentation, not other medical information

After making such decisions, employers should communicate expectations clearly to all staff and visitors. Employers should also be mindful of treating all employees fairly and with kindness and respect regardless of their masking decisions or vaccination status.

Lake Effect is here to answer your questions about preventive measures, vaccinations, and safely reopening your workplace. We continue to monitor important legal and HR developments, as well as COVID-related updates from federal, state, and local authorities. Please watch our blogs and emails for these important updates, as well as discussions of how compliance meets culture. To dive into these issues, contact us at info@le-hrlaw.com or 1-844-333-5253.

Wisconsin Communities’ Face Covering Requirements Expiring

Outagamie County, Dane County, and the city of Milwaukee have joined the growing list of communities across the country that are lifting their mask and other COVID-related public health orders. Outagamie County lifted its face mask requirements on May 13, 2021. Public Health Madison & Dane County (PHMDC) announced on May 18, 2021 that its public health orders and mask requirements will expire on June 2. On the same day, Mayor Tom Barrett announced that the City of Milwaukee will lift its public health orders and mask requirements on June 1.

These announcements follow the guidance released by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) that fully vaccinated individuals can safely stop wearing masks outdoors and in most public indoor settings. The federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has indicated that it will release updated workplace safety requirements for employers based on CDC’s guidance. We will keep you informed with updates from OSHA.

Without a mask mandate, employers have several options. Employers may lift all mask requirements; require masks only for individuals who are not fully vaccinated; or require masks for all employees, customers, clients, and/or others on-site. As employers grapple with the best decision for their organization, they should work with HR professionals and employment attorneys to address issues such as:

  • What is your organizational culture?
  • How do your employees feel about returning to the workplace with or without masks?
  • Are you requiring vaccines?
    • If so, have you set up a legally compliant infrastructure to address, among many other things, reasonable accommodations for disabilities and sincerely held religious beliefs, confidentiality, and consistency among your workforce?
    • If you have employees in multiple states, have you checked the laws, including local or state health orders, to ensure vaccinations can be required?
  • If you will allow vaccinated employees to work without masks, are you asking for proof of vaccination or relying on an attestation from employees?
    • Have you set up a legally compliant process for checking vaccination status?
  • If you will not require masks at all, have you adopted cleaning and hygiene protocols to ensure you can satisfy your duty to provide a safe workplace for your employees?

Lake Effect is here to collaborate with you on questions about workplace safety, employees returning to work, and employee vaccinations.

Dane County Public Health Emergency Order #16

Public Health Madison & Dane County (PHMDC) has issued a new public health order, Emergency Order #16, effective May 5, 2021. The new order includes additional exceptions to the face covering requirements and increases to the capacity limits for indoor gatherings and activities.

Face Coverings

  • Face coverings are not required when playing a wind instrument that has a fabric or other cover, as long as individuals are spaced six feet apart.

Gatherings

  • Indoor gatherings where food or drinks are available are limited to 350 individuals.
  • Indoor gatherings where food or drinks are not available are limited to 500 individuals.
  • These capacity limits do not include employees.
  • Individuals who are not members of the same household still must maintain six feet physical distancing when indoors or outdoors, except when in transit (e.g. walking in a hallway).

Businesses

  • Indoor capacity is increased to 75% of approved capacity levels.
  • This increased capacity applies to all organizations, including retail stores, salons, spas, gyms, fitness centers, and places of amusement and activity.

Stores that Sell Food or Groceries, Restaurants, and Taverns

  • Indoor seating capacity is increased to 75% of approved seating capacity levels.

The other requirements from previous PHMDC emergency orders remain in place. You can find Lake Effect’s summaries of the previous orders here.

Lake Effect is here to answer your questions about how local and state public health orders apply to employers. We continue to monitor important legal and HR developments, as well as COVID-related updates from federal, state, and local authorities. Please keep watching our blogs and emails for these important updates, as well as discussions of how compliance meets culture. To dive into these issues, contact us at info@le-hrlaw.com or 1-844-333-5253.

CDC Updates Guidance for Vaccinated Persons

Today, April 27, 2021, the CDC issued updated guidance for fully vaccinated persons (2 weeks after last vaccine dose or 2 weeks after the J&J vaccine). Employers should use CDC’s guidance but may require stricter safety precautions for their workplace, if needed. Employers must also follow applicable local and state public health orders.
Per the guidance, fully vaccinated people can now:

  • Visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing
  • Visit with unvaccinated people (including children) from a single household who are at low risk for severe COVID-19 disease indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing
  • Participate in outdoor activities and recreation without a mask, except in certain crowded settings and venues
  • Resume domestic travel and refrain from testing before or after travel or self-quarantine after travel
  • Refrain from testing before leaving the United States for international travel (unless required by the destination) and refrain from self-quarantine after arriving back in the United States
  • Refrain from testing following a known exposure, if asymptomatic, with some exceptions for specific settings
  • Refrain from quarantine following a known exposure if asymptomatic
  • Refrain from routine screening testing if asymptomatic and feasible

Some precautions remain in place. For now, fully vaccinated people should continue to:

  • Take precautions in indoor public settings like wearing a well-fitted mask
  • Wear masks that fit snuggly when visiting indoors with unvaccinated people who are at increased risk for severe COVID-19 disease or who have an unvaccinated household member who is at increased risk for severe COVID-19 disease
  • Wear well-fitted masks when visiting indoors with unvaccinated people from multiple households
  • Avoid indoor large-sized in-person gatherings
  • Get tested if experiencing COVID-19 symptoms
  • Follow guidance issued by individual employers
  • Follow CDC and health department travel requirements and recommendations

Lake Effect is here to answer your questions about COVID-related workplace safety. We continue to monitor important legal and HR developments, as well as COVID-related updates from federal, state, and local authorities. Please watch our blogs and emails for these important updates, as well as discussions of how compliance meets culture. To dive into these issues, contact us at info@le-hrlaw.com or 1-844-333-5253.

IRS Issues Guidance on ARPA Tax Credits and COVID-19 Vaccinations

On April 21, 2021, the IRS and the US Treasury Department published a fact sheet on the tax credits available under American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to employers who provide paid leave to employees who get COVID-19 vaccinations. ARPA extends tax credits previously established under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) to reimburse employers for the cost of voluntarily providing paid sick and family leave to employees due to COVID-19. For a complete discussion of the ARPA and FFCRA leaves, please see Lake Effect’s prior blog. The new fact sheet confirms the following:

  • Employers eligible for the tax credits are those with fewer than 500 employees, including governmental employers, other than the federal government and federal agencies.
  • Eligible employers may receive tax credits for wages paid for leave taken by employees to receive COVID-19 vaccinations or recover from any illness or condition related to such vaccinations.
  • As set forth in Lake Effect’s prior blog on FFCRA tax credits, the credits cover 100% of the costs of qualified sick and family leave wages, the employer’s share of social security and Medicare taxes on those wages, and any qualified health plan expenses allocable to those wages.
  • Eligible employers may claim tax credits for sick and family leave paid to employees to receive or recover from COVID-19 vaccinations from April 1, 2021 to September 30, 2021.
  • Employers may use IRS Form 941 to claim the tax credits and can keep the federal employment taxes that they otherwise would have deposited up to the full amount of the credit for which they are eligible. Employers may also request an advance of the credits by filing IRS Form 7200.
  • Self-employed individuals may claim comparable tax credits on their Individual IRS Form 1040.

Employers should work closely with their tax advisors to understand the tax implications of COVID-related paid sick and family leaves, including those covering vaccinations. We are closely monitoring developments relating to COVID-19 and the workplace. Keep watching for blogs and emails from your Lake Effect team for important legal updates and HR best practices. The attorneys and HR professionals at Lake Effect HR & Law are ready and willing to help. Contact us at info@le-hrlaw.com or 1-844-333-5253.

Dane County Public Health Emergency Order #15

Public Health Madison & Dane County (PHMDC) has issued a new public health order, Emergency Order #15, effective April 7, 2021. The new order includes significant changes to the face covering requirements, capacity limits for outdoor gatherings, and the requirements applicable to several industries including schools and childcare centers, gyms, and grocery stores. The new order also includes changes to the mandatory policy and procedure requirements for all employers in Dane County. The loosened requirements are a response to the continued decrease in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Dane County. in Dane County.

Face Coverings

  • Face coverings are no longer required outdoors, although PHMDC continues to “strongly recommend” face coverings outdoors when six feet physical distancing is not possible.

Gatherings

  • Outdoor gatherings are no longer subject to specific capacity limits.
  • Instead, outdoor gatherings are limited to a capacity that ensures individuals maintain at least six feet physical distancing.

Schools and Childcare

  • PHMDC has removed most of the requirements for schools and childcare centers.
  • PHMDC continues to require schools and organizations providing childcare to develop certain COVID policies. However, the mandatory content of two of the policies has changed.
  • The following policies and procedures are required:
    • A written hygiene policy and procedure.
      • The requirements for this policy have not changed.
    • A written cleaning policy and procedure that includes guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for cleaning.
      • This is a change from previous orders that delineated specific items that must be included in the cleaning policy and procedure.
    • A written protective measure policy and procedure that includes ensuring employees are provided with and wear face coverings when required, and ensuring procedures for “distancing for students, children, and employees.”
      • This is a change from previous orders that included, among other things, six feet physical distancing between students.
  • Employers should ensure their policies and procedures are compliant and distribute revised policies to employees. Employers must also document employees’ receipt, acknowledgement, or training on any revised policies.

Sports

  • The only change in the requirements for sports is a minor change to the mandatory written cleaning policy and procedure.
  • The following policies and procedures are required:
    • A written hygiene policy and procedure.
      • The requirements for this policy have not changed.
    • A written cleaning policy and procedure that includes guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for cleaning.
      • This is a change from the previous orders that delineated specific items that must be included in the policy.
    • A written protective measure policy and procedure that includes physical distancing requirements.
      • The requirements for this policy have not changed.
  • Employers should ensure their policies and procedures are compliant and distribute revised policies to employees. Employers must also document employees’ receipt, acknowledgement, or training on any revised policies.

Businesses

  • The only change in the requirements for businesses is a minor change to the mandatory written cleaning policy and procedure.
  • The following policies and procedures are required for all businesses:
    • A written hygiene policy and procedure.
      • The requirements for this policy have not changed.
    • A written cleaning policy and procedure that includes guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for cleaning.
      • This is a change from the previous orders that delineated specific items that must be included in the policy.
    • A written protective measure policy and procedure that includes physical distancing requirements.
      • The requirements for this policy have not changed.
  • Employers should ensure their policies and procedures are compliant and distribute revised policies to employees. Employers must also document employees’ receipt, acknowledgement, or training on any revised policies.

Stores that Sell Food or Groceries

  • PHMDC has removed the prohibitions on customer self-dispensing of bulk food, customer self-service of unpackaged foods (e.g. salad bars), and food sampling.

Restaurants and Taverns

  • PHMDC has removed the prohibitions on customer self-service of food (e.g. salad bars, buffets) and food sampling.

Gyms and Fitness Centers

  • Gyms and fitness centers are no longer required to provide materials for members to disinfect equipment or to increase their cleaning of equipment, common areas, locker rooms, and restrooms.
  • Saunas and steam rooms may open if their capacity is limited to individuals from the same household.

Places of Amusement and Activity

  • Organizations are no longer required to clean equipment in between each customer’s use.
  • The prohibition on food sampling has been removed.

Fully Vaccinated Individuals

  • Fully vaccinated individuals do not need to maintain six feet physical distancing or wear a face covering when indoors with:
    • with other fully vaccinated individuals.
    • with individuals from a single household or living unit who are not fully vaccinated but are not at an increased risk for severe COVID-19 disease, and who do not live with anyone is not fully vaccinated and at an increased risk for severe COVID-19 disease.

The other requirements from previous PHMDC emergency orders remain in place. You can find Lake Effect’s summaries of the previous orders here.

Lake Effect is here to answer your questions about how local and state public health orders apply to employers. We continue to monitor important legal and HR developments, as well as COVID-related updates from federal, state, and local authorities. Please keep watching our blogs and emails for these important updates, as well as discussions of how compliance meets culture. To dive into these issues, contact us at info@le-hrlaw.com or 1-844-333-5253.

Lake Effect HR & Law, LLC
(844) 333-5253 (LAKE)
info@le-hrlaw.com

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