COVID-19 Update June 21, 2021

This weekend, many of us in the South experienced our first tropical storm of the 2021 hurricane season, which started on June 1st and continues through November 30th. Last year, we posted a blog on some of our recommendations for keeping your businesses safe and staying prepared during a turbulent storm season. Be sure to review FEMA’s Guide to Hurricane Preparedness, along with the NOAA Extreme Weather info sheet, containing each state’s emergency centers and their contacts. Delta is always available to help with contingency planning, so please don’t hesitate to reach out for assistance.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will issue its long-awaited COVID-19 emergency temporary standard, applying only to the health care industry with nonbinding guidance for other employers expected. In addition to the emergency temporary standard (ETS), OSHA has issued new safety guidelines that apply to all industries.

Furthermore, officials in some states are blocking businesses and government agencies from requiring people to produce vaccine passports, or documentation that they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19. In most states, private employers can continue to ask whether workers are vaccinated, while employers in some locations may be obligated to do so. It’s important to note that asking employees whether they’ve received a vaccine is different from requiring a vaccine passport. Thus, employers should continue to reference OSHA and local laws that specifically apply to the workforce. It’s always easier to loosen workplace policies later than enforce greater restrictions after something goes wrong.

Last week, a federal judge in Texas upheld a hospital system’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy by dismissing a lawsuit that claimed vaccines against the coronavirus are experimental. The lawsuit was led against Houston Methodist by 117 unvaccinated employees who were told to get vaccinated or lose their jobs. They argued that the hospital’s requirement violated public policy, since the COVID-19 vaccines were distributed under the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) rather than the FDA’s usual processes. Meanwhile, the FDA has said that the authorized vaccines have met its “rigorous, scientific standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality” and that the “known and potential benefits clearly outweigh its known and potential risks.”

Lastly, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) published its spring regulatory agenda, highlighting the government’s intent to increase the minimum wage for federal contractors. Other planned actions include rulemaking to address the economic security of tipped workers and modernizing the Davis-Bacon and Related Acts regulations. The spring regulatory agenda also addresses proposed withdrawal of the joint employer standards.

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