COVID-19 Update August 23, 2021

While the Delta variant is still affecting many parts of the country, the big news today is that the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine received full FDA approval.  As the first vaccine in the US to be approved by the FDA, it might make it easier for employers to mandate the shot.

Here at Delta, we are pro-vaccination, and most of our office has been vaccinated. We still believe you should check with your trusted physician; however, the proof is out there that the cases for people that had the vaccination are not as severe as the ones unvaccinated. COVID-19 cases in the U.S. recently surpassed 130,000 a day on average, following a drop in June to about 12,000 new cases each day. Many states like Louisiana have put mask mandates are back in place. According to reports, 90% of the COVID patients admitted at our local Ochsner are unvaccinated. Here is SHRM’s guidance if you need tips on encouraging employees to get vaccinated or on how to accommodate employees with pets returning to work. We believe certain mandates are necessary for workplaces, however you should be prepared to make accommodations for any medical or religious reason for refusal.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently denied review of Indiana University’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees and students, leaving in place the rulings of lower courts in favor of the university’s requirements. In other news, CNN recently fired three workers for violating its COVID-19 policy by entering the workplace unvaccinated. The network had been relying on an honor system rather than requiring proof of vaccination. If you have any questions on how to protect your company from such liabilities, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

OSHA’s latest guidance recommends that fully vaccinated workers in areas of substantial or high community transmission wear masks in order to protect unvaccinated workers; recommends that fully vaccinated workers who have close contacts with people with coronavirus wear masks for up to 14 days unless they have a negative coronavirus test at least three to five days after such contact; clarifies recommendations to protect unvaccinated workers and other at-risk workers in manufacturing, meat and poultry processing, seafood processing, and agricultural processing; and links to the latest guidance on K-12 schools and CDC statements on public transit.

OSHA continues to emphasize that vaccination is the optimal step to protect workers and encourages employers to engage with workers and their representatives to implement multilayered approaches to protect unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers from the coronavirus.

The Treasury Department and the IRS issued further guidance on the Employee Retention Credit, including guidance for employers who pay qualified wages after June 30, 2021, and before January 1, 2022, and additional guidance on miscellaneous issues that apply to the credit in both 2020 and 2021. These changes, made under the American Rescue plan, amplify prior guidance. The guidance also responds to questions received and covers reporting qualified wages and related health insurance costs.

The IRS also updated the frequently asked questions (FAQs) on the paid sick and family leave tax credits under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The updates clarify that eligible employers can claim the credits for providing leave to employees to accompany a family or household member or certain other individuals to obtain immunization relating to COVID-19 or to care for a family or household member or certain other individuals recovering from the immunization. This new reason for paid sick or family leave also applies for the comparable credits for self-employed individuals.

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