COVID-19’S Continuing Workplace Impact: EEOC Revises Pandemic Guidance Again

On July 12, 2022, the EEOC issued updated COVID-19 guidance for employers, reflecting the ever-changing but persistent impact of the virus on the workplace. Key updates include the following:

  • Workplace COVID-19 testing
    • Previously, employers could require COVID-19 testing (although it is a medical exam under the ADA) because the EEOC recognized that a person with the virus would pose a direct threat to the health of others.
    • Under the revised guidance, employers may only mandate COVID-19 testing if they show that the testing is “job-related and consistent with business necessity.” (A.6.)
    • Mandatory COVID-19 testing will meet the “business necessity” standard when it is consistent with current guidance from the CDC, FDA, and state and local public health authorities. Employers may also consider such factors as:
      • Community transmission rates
      • Vaccination status of employees
      • Possibility of breakthrough infections for fully vaccinated employees
      • Transmissibility of and severity of illness from current variants
      • Potential impact on the workplace if an employee enters with COVID-19 (A.6.)
    • Antibody testing does not meet the ADA’s “business necessity” standard for a medical exam; employers therefore may not require such testing before allowing employees to re-enter the workplace. As the EEOC notes, an antibody test does not show whether an employee has a current infection, nor establish that an employee is immune to infection. (A.7.)
  • Hiring and job offers
    • If an employer screens everyone for COVID-19 before allowing entry to the worksite, it can screen an applicant in the pre-offer stage who needs to be in the workplace. (C.1.)
    • An employer can also screen applicants for COVID-19 symptoms after making a conditional job offer, as long as it does so for all applicants in the same job type. (C.1.)
    • After an applicant has been offered a job, an employer may only withdraw that offer based upon the applicant’s positive COVID-19 test, symptoms, or exposure if: (1) the job requires an immediate start date, (2) CDC guidance recommends the person not be in proximity to others, and (3) the job requires such proximity to others, whether at the workplace or elsewhere. (C.4.)
  • Interactive process/ accommodation requests
    • Delays in engaging in the interactive process and/or responding to employee accommodation requests are no longer acceptable unless an employer shows specific pandemic-related circumstances justified the delay. (D.17.)
  • Vaccinations
    • Consistent with prior guidance, employers may require all employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, subject to Title VII and the ADA’s reasonable accommodation requirements. Employers may also require proof of such vaccination. (K.1.)
    • An employee’s vaccination status must be kept confidential and separated from the regular personnel file. However, an employer may share the vaccination information with other employees who need it to perform their job duties. Such employees also must keep the information confidential. (K.4.)

This is not a comprehensive list of the many issues covered in the updated COVID-19 guidance. Please reach out to your partners at Lake Effect HR & Law to ensure that your organization’s COVID-19 policies and practices are in full compliance with current EEOC guidelines. We are here to answer all of your questions about COVID-19 compliance and will continue to monitor important legal and HR developments in this area. 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.

CDC’s Latest Guidance: To Mask or Not Mask

On February 25, 2022 the CDC updated its masking guidance. The new recommendations are customized according to community risk. Each county across the US is designated “high,” “medium,” or “low” risk.

  • “High” risk counties: residents are advised to mask indoors in public.
  • “Medium” risk counties: residents should mask in some situations, including in high risk settings (for example in schools, indoor crowds, and congregate settings), if around individuals who are at high risk of severe illness, or if an individual’s doctor recommends masking.
  • “Low” risk counties: residents need not mask.

Regardless of risk designation, the CDC recommends testing if symptomatic, vaccinating if eligible, and improving ventilation in indoor settings if possible.

CDC guidance is not mandatory, but it may assist employers as they establish and implement their own COVID related safety policies for the workplace. Following CDC guidance may also assist in demonstrating compliance with OSHA’s “general duty” clause, which requires all employers to provide a workplace free from known health and safety hazards.

Each employer will be faced with challenging decisions about whether and how to implement the new CDC masking guidelines into workplace safety policies. Soliciting input from your leadership team and employees may be helpful as you continue to manage changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Renew your commitment to a respectful workplace and encourage your employees to treat one another accordingly during these times of transition. If you need help navigating these changes, please reach out to any of the Lake Effect attorneys or HR professionals.

Lake Effect is here to answer your questions about COVID protocols and mitigation in the 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.

Share the Love with Your Employees

It’s Valentine’s Day, the day we show a little extra love to those who are special to us. After the last two years, we all need a few more candy conversation hearts. Take a few moments today to take care of yourself and encourage your team to do the same. As we move through 2022, continue to practice self-care and provide your staff with resources to support their mental wellness, engagement, and professional development.

Take time for self-care. Leaders, we see you taking care of your staff, customers, and families. Thank you for all you do! Please keep your tank filled and battery charged so you can continue to take care of others. Take a moment for you!

Tell your staff you appreciate them. Everyone wants to be seen and appreciated. A heartfelt thank you can go a long way. You know your staff the best, so make the message meaningful to each recipient.

Provide your team members with the resources they need. More than ever before, employees are seeking flexible work schedules, hybrid work environments, professional growth, a supportive workplace culture, and relevant benefits. Ask your employees what they need to be successful in their roles while balancing their personal responsibilities. Here are a few ideas to bring that to life:

  • Remind your team members to take time for self-care – and remind them again
  • Lead by example by taking care of yourself
  • Implement a flexible work schedule
  • Consider a 4-day work week or reduced schedule
  • Review workloads, including the leaders within your organization
  • Develop a buddy system to check in on each other, especially in a remote or hybrid work environment
  • Create an environment where it feels safe to say “I need help on a project” or “I need a break to step away for an hour”
  • Encourage staff to volunteer in the community to support causes that are important to them
  • Post your Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) access information so it is easily accessible
  • Remind your employees about some of the hidden perks within your benefits plans: discounts on massage, credits for workouts, wellness resources and apps, and the like
  • Partner with local nonprofits to provide mental wellness resources to your staff
  • Implement or expand a coaching and development program to help employees align their professional development goals with your organization’s strategic initiatives
  • Practice empathic leadership, fostering a sense of meaningful connection and belonging

During the past two years, the Lake Effect team has been doing something together every month. We have done virtual 5K’s, laughed while attempting to do virtual workouts together, shared reading suggestions, and even tried cooking the same recipe together via Zoom. This month, we are challenging ourselves to do three things every day and we would LOVE you to join us in the challenge: do something each day for yourself physically, mentally, and professionally.  

As we close on this Valentine’s Day, Jane is supporting a local restaurant, Sheila is heading out for a run, Holly is making memories with her kids, Leann is taking a vacation with her family, Jenn is volunteering her time delivering flowers, and Tricia is playing outside soaking up the sunshine. Tell us how you are taking care of yourself this month.

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Updated OSHA Guidance to Continue Workplace Health and Safety Measures

On August 13, 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) updated its guidance for all employers to reflect the CDC’s July 27, 2021 recommendations on masks and testing for fully-vaccinated individuals. As with the prior guidance on COVID-19, this updated OSHA guidance is not a standard or regulation and creates no new legal obligations. However, the guidance is likely to be relied on to measure employer compliance with OSHA’s “General Duty Clause.” That clause requires employers to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards that cause or are likely to cause death or serious harm.

To reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 among employees, especially the Delta variant, OSHA recommends that employers:

  • Require all employees, including those who are fully vaccinated, to wear a face covering, or other appropriate PPE, when indoors with other people in areas of substantial or high transmission.
  • Encourage or require all customers, visitors, and guests to wear face coverings when indoors in areas of substantial or high transmission.
  • Adopt policies that require employees to get vaccinated or, if they remain unvaccinated, get regularly tested for COVID-19 plus continue wearing a face covering and physical distancing.
  • Require fully vaccinated employees who have been exposed to COVID-19 to be tested three to five days after exposure and wear a face mask when indoors for 14 days unless they test negative.

The above precautions are in addition to measures included in OSHA’s previous guidance. See Lake Effect’s blog on OSHA’s guidance for employers.

Employers should work closely with legal counsel and HR to implement an updated COVID-19 workplace program consistent with this new OSHA guidance and any applicable local guidance and orders. Lake Effect is here to help you through this process.

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.

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.

Increased Fines for Not Posting Employment Posters

The federal government recently increased the fines employers may face for violating federal employment law posting requirements. Going forward, the potential posting fines are:

  • Family and Medical Leave Act – $178
  • Job Safety and Health: It’s the Law – $13,653
  • Employee Polygraph Protection Act – $21,663
  • EEO is the Law – $576

Employers should also be aware that each state has its own poster requirements, most of which impose fees for failing to comply. It is important for employers to maintain an effective strategy for staying informed about the applicable local, state, and federal posting requirements. Contact your partners at Lake Effect with questions about obtaining and updating required employment posters.

Lake Effect is here to answer your questions about your posting requirements and other employment law and HR compliance matters. 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

Amended Dane County Public Health Emergency Order #14

Public Health Madison & Dane County (PHMDC) issued an Amended Emergency Order #14 on March 18, 2021. It is effective immediately.

The Amended Emergency Order adds a new section on fully vaccinated individuals. The order defines “fully vaccinated” as two weeks after the second dose from a 2-dose vaccine, e.g. Pfizer-BioNTech’s or Moderna’s vaccine, or two weeks after the first dose of a single-dose vaccine, e.g. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine. Fully vaccinated individuals do not need to maintain six-feet physical distancing or wear a face covering when in an enclosed space:

  • with other fully vaccinated individuals.
  • with individuals from a single household who are not fully vaccinated and are not at increased risk for severe COVID-19 illness as defined by the CDC.

All other requirements from previous PHMDC emergency orders remain in place. This means that fully vaccinated persons must still wear masks in the workplace, when around unvaccinated persons. 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.

Twelve Months Later: How Has Your Organization Evolved?

The past 12 months have been a time like no other, forcing organizations to pivot quickly to accommodate a new reality. Now is the time to review handbook policies and internal processes that may have been revised on the fly in response to changing circumstances.

You can start by reviewing the ways your organization has changed since the start of the pandemic in terms of policy and process changes:

  • Did employees’ transition to work remotely?
  • Will they continue to do so? Did they start or expand use of personal devices for business purposes?
  • Have schedules or reporting relationships changed to adapt to new circumstances?
  • Have employees performed remote work from other states? (If they intend to remain there, you may need to register for general business, payroll, and/or unemployment tax purposes in that state. You may also need to review your current benefits offerings, as well specific employment laws for that state or local area. See our blog on state employment laws to consider with remote employees.)
  • Has your brand or business model changed in response to the pandemic? Do you need to update position descriptions or organizational charts?

As you identify changes that have occurred and adjustments that will be necessary, review your employee handbook and update relevant policies to reflect your decisions(Note: We do not recommend changing the handbook for policies that are temporary in nature, such as allowing employees to work remotely only until worksites open again. Temporary policies can be freestanding.)

In addition, consider the impact that the past year had on your employees and your organization’s culture:

  • Some employees may have been working onsite throughout the pandemic. Others may be excited to return to the workplaceand still others may be cautious to returnThis can result in actual or potential conflicts between employees who may judge or simply not understand another’s perspective.
  • Some employees may be experiencing mental health issues resulting froisolation or other challenges encountered over the past year, while others are thrilled to be out of the house and back in the office.
  • Some employees may feel the stress of changing family routines and expectations, and they may need additional time to adapt or help family members adapt.
  • Some employees may be grieving the loss of a loved one during the pandemic, while others have experienced minimal personal impact.
  • Some employees may need more time than others to reacclimate to their commute and former schedule at a worksite.

As your employees and you address these difficult issues, you   can reaffirm a culture of inclusion, acceptance, and respect with effective planning, clear communication, flexibility, and empathy.

Lake Effect is here to answer your questions about how to handle these important workplace transitions and evolution, while maintaining your culture and supporting your mission and vision. 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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