Author: Susan L. Nardone

OSHA Issues Long-Awaited COVID Guidance and Emergency Temporary Standard

On June 10, 2021, the United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) finally issued its long-awaited update to its COVID-19 workplace safety guidance, setting forth best practices for all employers as employees return to the physical workplace after a lengthy absence. The same day, OSHA issued an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS)—pursuant to the DOL’s rule-making authority—establishing mandatory procedures for “covered healthcare employers.” We summarize the obligations and recommendations imposed on healthcare and non-healthcare employers below.

FFCRA Benefits Become Optional and Unemployment Benefits Change With New Stimulus Package

On December 27, 2020, President Donald Trump signed the fourth major COVID-19 response bill into law. The stimulus package includes focused relief in a variety of areas (see our December 21, 2020 post), but two important elements are worth highlighting for employers. First, there have been several changes to pandemic-related unemployment insurance benefits since guidelines were first provided last spring. Second, the emergency paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave benefits provided under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), explained here, expired on December 31, 2020 and were not extended, but employers who opt to offer them remain eligible for tax credits. Unemployment Insurance (UI) Benefits Supplement and Extension The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”) provided eligible recipients of state unemployment benefits with an additional $600 per week in federal benefits, which expired in July 2020. The new stimulus package provides eligible individuals who are already collecting state-provided unemployment benefits with an additional $300 per week in federal benefits ($300 less than the last stimulus relief package) for up to 11 weeks through March 14, 2021. These payments, however, are not retroactive to July 2020. The new stimulus package also extends the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) programs. PUA provides benefits to individuals...

EEOC Injects Guidance on COVID-19 Vaccine Practices in the Workplace

In the wake of the Food and Drug Administration’s Emergency Use Authorization of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) addressed a question weighing heavily on the minds of businesses and their employees: can an employer require its employees to get vaccinated? The EEOC’s December 16, 2020 guidance answered that question in the affirmative, but, as with most pronouncements during the pandemic, the issue is far from simple, and employers must pay close attention to what the guidance says, and what it does not say, when crafting their COVID-19 vaccination policies. The EEOC Guidance characterizes an employer-mandated vaccine as an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-permitted, safety-based qualification standard, akin to “a requirement that an individual shall not pose a direct threat to the health or safety of individuals in the workplace.” Employers can require employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine, but must allow for exceptions where employees are unable to receive the vaccine because of either disabilities or sincerely held religious beliefs. Employees with Disabilities: Where a mandatory vaccination policy would screen out an individual with a disability, the employer must show that the unvaccinated employee would pose a direct threat in the workplace due to a “significant risk of substantial harm to the health or safety of the individual or...

EEOC Updates “COVID-19 Technical Assistance Questions and Answers” with a Focus on Return-to-Work Guidance

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is continuing to offer COVID-19 related guidance to support employers and employees in navigating the workplace during the pandemic. As we discussed in a previous blog post, the EEOC updated its Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act guidance (first published in 2009) to specifically address the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the Pandemic Preparedness guidance, the EEOC has issued What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws, technical assistance guidance that contains numerous COVID-19 related questions and answers. Similar to the pandemic preparedness guidance, the technical assistance addresses employer’s obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), specifically as they relate to accommodation requests and medical exams due to COVID-19, as well as other COVID-19 related workplace issues. The EEOC has continued to regularly update the technical assistance since its initial publication in March 2020, with the most recent updates in June 2020. The EEOC has explained that EEO laws like the ADA and Rehabilitation Act continue to apply during the COVID-19 pandemic, but do not interfere with or prevent employers from following guidelines and suggestions made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or state and local public health authorities concerning preventative...

The U.S. DOL Issues Updated Guidance on CARES Act Unemployment Programs

Since our March 28, 2020 post, “Phase Three COVID-19 Response Bill Now Law: What it Means for Businesses and Employees,” the United States Department of Labor (DOL) has issued three additional Unemployment Insurance Program Letters (UIPL), No. 15-20, No. 16-20, and No. 17-20, to provide additional guidance to states on the administration of the three unemployment insurance programs available under the CARES Act. UIPL No. 15-20 UIPL No. 15-20, issued on April 4, 2020, addresses Section 2104 of the CARES Act—Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) benefits—which provides “eligible” individuals who are already collecting state-provided unemployment benefits an additional $600 per week in federal benefits through July 31, 2020. Who is eligible for the additional $600 FPUC payments? Individuals collecting regular unemployment compensation under state programs, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), Extended Benefits (EB), Short-Time Compensation (STC), Trade Readjustment Allowances (TRA), Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA), and Payments under the Self-Employment Assistance (SEA) program. FPUC is not available, however, for those receiving “additional benefits” (referred to as “extended benefits” by state UC programs) that extend the duration of benefits during high unemployment to those in approved training programs who have exhausted benefits, or for several other reasons. Individuals must be eligible for and receiving benefits under the above programs in order to be...

EEOC and NJ’s DCR Publish COVID-19 Guidance

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights (DCR) have joined a growing number of governmental agencies and public health organizations in issuing specific COVID-19 related guidance. The EEOC and DCR guidance each includes a series of frequently asked questions directed at ensuring compliance with federal and state anti-discrimination laws in the treatment of individuals affected by the novel coronavirus, in connection with employment, housing, and places of public accommodation. The DCR guidance, “Civil Rights and COVID-19: Frequently Asked Questions,” reminds employers, housing providers, and places of public accommodation of their obligations under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) and the New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA). Among the topics covered by the DCR, the guidance: Reminds employers that the prohibitions against discrimination and harassment because of an LAD-protected characteristic apply even when the conduct at issue “stems from concerns related to COVID-19.” The DCR explains that firing an employee who is perceived to have a disability related to COVID-19 is unlawful. In addition, behavior such as referring to COVID-19 as the “the Chinese virus” or harassing employees of East Asian heritage by claiming Asian people caused COVID-19 is expressly prohibited, and employers must take steps to immediately stop the behavior. Reminds landlords and building managers that...

UPDATE: Mandatory Nondiscrimination Policies, Training and Reporting: Proposed New Jersey Legislation Would Impose New Obligations on Employers and Lengthen the Limitations Period

On February 18, 2020, Governor Phil Murphy continued his quest to enhance employee protections in New Jersey by announcing proposed legislation aimed at strengthening New Jersey’s already-expansive prohibitions against harassment and discrimination in the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD). According to the proposed legislative findings, the bill was designed to “reject the norms of yesterday that overlooked workplace harassment and discrimination as business as usual.” The proposed legislation comes on the heels of a report released by the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights (DCR) this month, Preventing and Eliminating Sexual Harassment in New Jersey, the result of a trio of public hearings held in September 2019. Employers are already scrambling to keep up with legislation directed at protecting call center employees, cracking down on misclassification, and expanding the rights of employees affected by a mass layoff or plant closing. Here are the highlights from the proposed legislation: Expanded Definition of Employee. Domestic workers and unpaid interns would be added to the definition of “employees” under the NJLAD and there are specific provisions governing domestic workers. Extended Time for Filing Claims. The current two-year statute of limitations applicable to claims brought under the NJLAD would be extended to three years. And, the time to file a complaint with the DCR would be extended from...

New Jersey Department of Labor Issues Final Regulations for Earned Sick Leave Law

The New Jersey Earned Sick Leave Law (“ESLL”), which became effective in October 2018, requires New Jersey employers, among other things, to provide their employees with one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked, with a maximum of 40 hours annual paid sick leave. Such leave may be used for an employee to care for their own or a family member’s physical or mental health or injury; address domestic or sexual violence against themselves or a family member; attend a child’s school-related meeting, conference or event; or take care of their children when school or child care is closed due to an epidemic or public health emergency. The New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development (“NJDOL” or “Department”) recently issued final regulations for the ESLL (“final regulations” or “regulations”), ending more than a year of waiting for employers, from the time the NJDOL issued proposed ESLL rules (“proposed rules”), for which the 60-day comment period ended in December 2018. The regulations can be found here. The final regulations do not contain much in the way of substantive changes as compared to the proposed rules, but include extensive responses to more than 100 public comments, and provide guidance to employers attempting to navigate the ESLL’s complicated requirements. Some highlights of the regulations are...

Governor Murphy Signs Bill Making Nondisclosure Provisions Unenforceable and Against Public Policy

On Monday, March 18, 2019, Governor Phil Murphy signed Senate Bill No. 121, which makes nondisclosure provisions in employment contracts or settlement agreements that are intended to conceal the details of claims of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment unenforceable and against public policy in New Jersey. Section 1 of the new law warns that a “provision in any employment contract that waives any substantive or procedural right or remedy relating to a claim of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment” is against public policy and unenforceable.” The law does not define “employment contract” and leaves open to interpretation whether it applies to all agreements between employer and employee, whether an employment agreement, a separation agreement, or a settlement agreement. The prohibition on waiving any procedural right would make arbitration agreements, which by their nature waive the right to a jury trial, also invalid and unenforceable in contravention of the Federal Arbitration Act and recent United States Supreme Court precedent. An immediate challenge to this aspect of the law is likely since it casts doubt on all arbitration agreements between an employer and employee that seek to include claims of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. Section 1 also prohibits a prospective waiver of any right or remedy under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) or any other statute or...

New Jersey Senate Labor Committee Amends Bill Prohibiting Use of Nondisclosure Provisions in Employment and Settlement Agreements

In response to the recent spotlight on sexual abuse and harassment claims in the workplace and the #MeToo movement, the federal government and numerous states, including New Jersey, have focused attention on the use of nondisclosure provisions in settlement agreements involving claims of sexual harassment and assault. As we previously reported, the Tax Cuts and Job Bills Act was passed in December 2017 and includes a provision that bars any settlement or payment related to claims of sexual harassment or sexual abuse from being deducted as a business expense if the payments are subject to a nondisclosure agreement. While the federal tax bill aims to discourage the use of nondisclosure agreements, the proposed New Jersey legislation initially provided an outright ban on such agreements. At the time of its first introduction during the prior legislative session in December 2017, Senator Loretta Weinberg’s proposed bill prohibited New Jersey employers from including “a provision in any employment contract or agreement which has the purpose or effect of concealing the details relating to a claim of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment.” The bill is unique because it is not limited to sexual harassment or abuse claims, but rather would apply to any type of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment claim under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination. Senator Weinberg’s bill was reintroduced...