With everyone focusing on the coronavirus (“COVID-19”) pandemic, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) has quietly moved forward with issuing a final rule on occupational exposures to beryllium and beryllium compounds (collectively “beryllium”). Having begun rulemaking in January 2017, the agency’s proposed beryllium standard has been in flux for some time, as well as modified through revisions during rulemaking proceedings. But now, OSHA has again finalized requirements for occupational exposures to beryllium in standards for the general (29 CFR 1910.1024), construction (29 CFR 1926.1124), and shipyards (29 CFR 1915.1024) industries. Health standards provided in the final rule are also set to go into effect on September 14, 2020.

Under the final rule, OSHA maintains that employees’ exposure to beryllium should be limited to a 8-hour time-weighted average (“TWA”) of 0.2 µg/m3 as this permissible exposure limit (“PEL”) will reduce employees risk of health impairment or disease to the greatest extent feasible. OSHA also requires that employers limit employees’ short-term exposure to 2.0 µg/m3 over a 15-minute sampling period (“STEL”) and act to control or minimize beryllium exposures when sampling shows employees have a 0.1 µg/m3 8-hour TWA. The standard also requires specific protections for employees that may be exposed to beryllium while at work.

Like other health standards, OSHA’s final rule requires that employers in the general, construction, and shipyard industries conduct an exposure assessment to identify and evaluate occupational beryllium exposures. Following the assessment, employers must then determine and implement appropriate methods for control, which may include use of engineering controls, respiratory protection, personal protective equipment, and other administrative controls. Employers should include these controls in a written exposure control plan that contemplates management of beryllium work areas, monitoring of control effectiveness, and general housekeeping procedures. Employers may also need to implement medical surveillance programs for employees with exposure to beryllium, paying specific attention to employees that develop a beryllium sensitization as this can lead to chronic beryllium disease.

Finally, employers must ensure proper training and recordkeeping. More specifically, employers must effectively train employees with potential exposures to beryllium on sources of potential exposures and associated exposure hazards and control measures. Employers must also maintain accurate records on their exposure assessments, medical surveillance, and program implementation.

If you have questions or need assistance, please reach out to the Jackson Lewis attorney with whom you often work, or any member of our Workplace Safety and Health Team.

 

The legal landscape has changed radically since the start of 2020. While COVID-19 has profoundly impacted the Golden State, and the world, new employment laws are still driving change for California employers.

Join Jackson Lewis P.C. on Wednesday July 29 at 10:00 a.m. PST for a mid-year employment law webinar, where we will share critical mid-year updates, provide an overview of key rulings, and discuss pending new laws for 2021.

Topics

  • Mid-year reminders about local minimum wage increases and paid family leave benefits
  • New ordinances and requirements instituted as a result of COVID-19
  • Employment case updates, including status of independent contractors and employment arbitration agreements
  • Pending state legislation relating to employment and employee benefits

Webinars are CLE-accredited in California, Illinois, New York, Missouri and Texas. We are also accredited providers of HRCI and SHRM

For more information and to register, click here.

On July 24, 2020, the State of California released a “COVID-19 Employer Playbook” to guide employers in planning and preparing for the safe reopening of their businesses.  It combines guidance from various California agencies to ensure that employers have the tools they need to plan for a safe and clean workplace.  Notably, the Playbook is not meant to be exhaustive, as it does not include county-specific health orders, nor is it a substitute for existing safety and health-related regulatory requirements such as those from Cal/OSHA.

The Playbook provides guidance for managing and preventing outbreaks in the workplace, regulations for reporting identified cases, cleaning and disinfecting protocols, return to work guidelines following a confirmed case, and California paid sick leave requirements.  It also offers a comprehensive list of resources for employers, including industry-specific checklists from state regulatory agencies that monitor and enforce COVID-19 statutes and orders. These agencies include the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, the Department of Consumer Affairs, and the Department of Industrial Relations (which incorporates the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health and the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement).

Lastly, the Playbook educates employees on ways they can protect themselves and others, both in the workplace and at home. This includes enforcing face-covering requirements and suggested language and de-escalation measures for communicating with workers, customers, and visitors in the workplace about face coverings.

Jackson Lewis is tracking new rules and regulations related to COVID-19 and workplace safety. If you have questions or concerns about complying with California workplace regulations, contact a Jackson Lewis attorney to discuss.

USCIS confirmed that its planned furlough of 70% of its workforce (13,400 employees) will be postponed at least until the end of August. The ostensible reason for the furlough was a budget shortfall, even though USCIS is a fee-based service that historically has covered costs.

The furlough announcement, when coupled with the anti-immigration agenda from the White House, caused some to question the claim that USCIS had of a $571-million deficit for FY 2020. Agency and indeed recent reports show that USCIS will end the fiscal year with a budget surplus large enough to keep employees on the payroll for now. In the meantime, Congress will have to time to act to provide emergency relief for FY 2021. As of July 10, 2020, the surplus was reportedly $121 million.

Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and John Tester (D-Mont.) wrote to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, Chad F. Wolf, when they learned of the surplus, which was in “stark contrast” to the previous deficit prediction. The Senators implored the agency not to put more American jobs “on the line” at this time of “unprecedented unemployment.” They made it plain that it was not just the employees who would be harmed.

[T]housands of United States Citizens, employers, and students rely on USCIS work, including members of the military. The loss of these valuable jobs will also cause hardship to the communities where these federal workers live and work – communities already struggling with the pandemic.

The USCIS Deputy Director for Policy, Joseph Edlow, stated that the changed forecast, occurring after an investigation, is due to increased revenue over the past few weeks. This revenue could be the result of Cap H-1B filings and the opening up of premium processing. At the end of March, USCIS suspended premium processing. On June 1, 2020, the agency slowly started resuming it. By June 22, 2020, premium processing became available for all I-129 petitions, including cap-subject petitions. At $1,440 for each petition, this resumption could account, at least partly, for the increased USCIS revenues. Given the current processing delays and the pent-up demand for premium processing, an increase in revenue could have been expected – and the fear of an almost-total halt in immigration processing alleviated.

USCIS union members (members of the American Federation for Government Employees) speaking to reporters explained that while the pandemic has decreased petitions, the agency has been crippled by “previous policy decisions that have restricted legal immigration.” In 2018, there was 17% decrease in petitions and applications. Since then, the public charge rule and increases in vetting, denials, requests for evidence, interviews, delays, and backlogs have led individuals and companies to file fewer petitions and applications. For some companies, it has become easier and more predictable to move jobs out of the United States into more welcoming environments. The impact of such a move is the opposite of what is needed in the U.S. economy’s recovery.

Senator Leahy expects to address the USCIS’ 2021 deficit with the next COVID-19 relief package.

If you have any questions, please contact a Jackson Lewis attorney.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the battle over when or if employers should be liable for personal injuries arising from coronavirus exposure allegedly caused during employment lurks on the horizon.

The United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit recently rejected a union’s request for the Court to compel the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (“MSHA”) to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard (“ETS”) for infectious diseases. In Re: United Mine Workers of America.

Like the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which develops and enforces safety and health rules for workplaces, MSHA is tasked with developing and enforcing workplace safety and health rules for U.S. mines. Both agencies are within the U.S. Department of Labor.

MSHA must provide an ETS when miners are exposed to grave danger from exposure to harmful substances, agents or other hazards if the ETS is necessary to protect the miners from the grave danger. MSHA denied the union’s request for an ETS for COVID-19, which the union then challenged in federal court. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that it would not compel MSHA to issue the ETS finding it was not unreasonable for MSHA to determine that an ETS was unnecessary.

MSHA determined that issuance of an ETS was unnecessary for COVID-19 because MSHA’s existing health and safety standards allow MSHA to take require mine operators to take action to abate COVID-19 health hazards. MSHA assured the Court that its existing standards impose COVID-19 related duties on mine operators. MSHA shared that it is issuing safety citations to operators for COVID-19 health and safety violations.

As the pandemic rages on throughout different parts of the country not previously hard hit at the onset of the pandemic, miners are more likely than ever to raise concerns about COVID-19 in the workplace and may even refuse to work if they do not believe the mine operator is taking all necessary precautions to protect them against the COVID-19 hazard. Section 105(c) of the Mine Act prohibits mines from discriminating or retaliating against miners, miner representatives and applicants for employment for engaging in safety and health activities, including identifying hazards, requesting or participating in MSHA inspections, and refusing to engage in unsafe acts. These conditions, coupled with the assurances from MSHA regarding COVID-19 related enforcement, are likely to lead to an uptick in MSHA’s COVID-19 enforcement activity.

This sharpened awareness of COVID-19 health and safety issues is not unique to mines. The D.C. Court of Appeals noted that MSHA’s ETS provision tracks OSHA’s ETS provision. Earlier in June, the D.C. Court of Appeals struck down the AFL-CIO’s petition to compel OSHA to issue an ETS for COVID-19. The D.C. Circuit stated that OSHA’s decision not to issue an ETS was entitled to considerable deference. The Court also noted that OSHA had other existing statutory and regulatory tools at its disposal to ensure that employers are protecting employees against the COVID-19 hazard in the workplace.

While mine operators and employers often welcome employee participation as part of ensuring a safe workplace for all, it is important to be mindful that COVID-19 related issues are likely, at least for now, to be scrutinized by MSHA and OSHA. Mine operators can avoid potential issues by providing the appropriate levels of attention to COVID-19 related issues as they do to all other workplace health and safety issues.

If you have questions or need assistance, please reach out to the Jackson Lewis attorney with whom you regularly work, or any member of our Workplace Safety and Health Team.

Deadlines are a large part of employee benefit plan administration.  The past 12 – 18 months have contributed to potential confusion about standard deadlines and added new deadlines plan administrators will not want to overlook.  During this period, the IRS created a one-time window deadline, published extensions for some plans’ deadlines, and other deadlines were not extended but are rapidly approaching.  July and August 2020, bring the most immediate deadlines for plan administrators.

In March, as part of the COVID-19 relief, the IRS extended the deadline for the end of the second six-year remedial amendment cycle for pre-approved (including volume submitter) defined benefit plans to July 31, 2020.  The same relief postponed the beginning of the Cycle 3 remedial amendment period to August 1, 2020, but the end date for Cycle 3 remains January 1, 2025.  We initially discussed this extension in a March 2020, blog.

The IRS opened the determination letter program through its Revenue Procedure 2019-20, published in May of 2019.  The revenue procedure permanently opened the determination letter program for Individually Designed Plans (IDP) that meet the requirements of a “merged plan” as defined in the revenue procedure.  The procedure also opened a limited, 12-month window for statutory hybrid plans, e.g., cash balance plans, to submit for a determination letter.  That 12-month window ends August 31, 2020.  As we stated in our May 2019, blog, plan sponsors and practitioners would welcome additional, periodic opportunities to obtain determination letters on other plans.

The IRS also issued COVID-19 relief extending Form 5500 filing deadlines for some plans based on the plan year-end date.  The relief ended on July 15, 2020, and DID NOT extend filing deadlines for calendar year plans.  The Form 5500 or Form 5558 extension filing deadline for a 2019 calendar year plan remains July 31, 2020.  All other filing deadlines associated with Form 5500 filings for plan years ending after December 31, 2019, are not extended and should be filed timely as in prior years according to the plan year-end date.

The Bottom Line:

  • Pre-approved defined benefit plans’ second six-year remedial amendment period ends July 31, 2020;
  • The determination letter submission window for statutory hybrid plans, e.g., cash balance plans, ends August 31, 2020; and
  • Calendar year plans required to file Form 5500s must still file the Form 5500 or the Form 5558 extension by July 31, 2020.

We are available to help plan administrators sort through applicable deadlines.  Please contact a team member or the Jackson Lewis attorney with whom you regularly work if you have questions or need assistance.

The U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) recently issued additional clarification on its FAQs and guidance regarding the FMLA and the FFCRA in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Some highlights include:

Telemedicine Visits Are “In-Person” Visits with a Healthcare Provider under the FMLA

Telemedicine visits (those medical appointments that are conducted by remote video conference via computers or mobile devices) will be considered as “in-person” visits with a health care provider under the FMLA.  However, to be considered an “in-person” visit, the telemedicine appointment must:

  • include an examination, evaluation, or treatment by a health care provider;
  • be performed by video conference;
  • and be permitted and accepted by state licensing authorities.

The DOL reasons that this approach serves the public’s interest because health care facilities and clinicians are under advisories to prioritize urgent and emergency visits and to preserve personal protective equipment and patient-care supplies.  However, the DOL notes that telemedicine visits will be considered “in-person” visits only until December 31, 2020.

COVID-19 Tests May be Required Before Returning to Work From FMLA Leave

The DOL also provides updated guidance on whether an employer can require employees returning from FMLA leave to get a COVID-19 test before returning to work.  The DOL explains that the FMLA does not prohibit an employer’s return-to-work COVID-19 testing requirement, as long as the testing requirement applies to all employees returning from any type of leave, whether FMLA or non-FMLA.  Note, however, that an employer should also consider any applicable state law or order that may impose restrictions on when COVID-19 testing is permitted and what types of COVID-19 tests are permitted.

DOL Provides Insights into Reopening and Return to Work Scenarios under the FFCRA

The DOL also added additional questions and answers to the FAQs on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”).  In these new FAQs, the DOL explains:

  • When an employee returns to work from FFCRA leave and there are lingering concerns regarding whether the employee is returning to work too soon and could potentially expose others to COVID-19, an employer may:
    • Consider temporarily reinstating the employee to an equivalent position with less co-worker interaction or require the employee to telework, and
    • Require an employee comply with job requirements that are unrelated to being out on FFCRA, such as a general requirement that any employee be tested for COVID-19, or telework, if the employee has interacted with a COVID-infected person.  Such a requirement must apply to all employees.
    • The DOL cautions that an employer may not require an employee to telework or be tested for COVID-19 simply because the employee took FFCRA leave.
  • The FFCRA emergency paid sick leave is limited to a total of 80 hours, even if an employee took FFCRA before being furloughed and is now returning to work from furlough.  Any balance under 80 hours of emergency paid sick leave can be taken through December 31, 2020 for qualifying reasons.
  • If an employee took expanded FMLA prior to a furlough, an employee is still entitled to any balance of FMLA leave under 12 weeks upon returning to work after a furlough.
  • An employer may not extend an employee’s furlough because the employee will need to take FFCRA leave to care for the employee’s child upon return to work.  The DOL reminds employers that they may not discriminate or retaliate against employees (including prospective employees) for exercising or attempting to exercise rights under the FFCRA.

Links

Links to the updates discussed in this blog are below:

COVID-19 and the Family and Medical Leave Act Questions and Answers (See Questions 12 and 13 for more information on the above discussion.)

COVID-19 and the American Workplace (FFCRA FAQ) (See Questions 94-97 for more information on the above discussion.)

Employers are encouraged to continue to check for updates to DOL FAQs and guidance, which is continually evolving during this COVID-19 pandemic.

For guidance on leave management issues, please contact a Jackson Lewis attorney. Register here if you would like to receive information about our workthruIT® Leave & Accommodation Suite. The Leave & Accommodation Suite provides subscribers an expanding array of tools to manage leave and accommodation issues, including electronic access to a state and local leave law database that is developed and updated continually by our Disability, Leave & Health Management attorneys.

Despite California’s recent statewide closures for indoor operations at restaurants, movie theaters, family entertainment centers, zoos, wineries, and closures for select hospitality businesses across more than 30 counties, Oakland passed a new right to reemployment ordinance. Like the Los Angeles ordinance, Oakland’s Ordinance is limited to industries related to certain hospitality operations, such as airport hospitality providers, event centers, hotels, and covered restaurant employers, including fast-food restaurants.

The Ordinance specifies that the airport hospitality providers are businesses that provide food, beverage, retail, or other consumer goods or services to the public at the Oakland International Airport. The Ordinance also applies to a variety of airport service providers at the Oakland International Airport.

The Ordinance covers only event centers in the City of Oakland that are more than fifty thousand (50,000) square feet or have five thousand (5,000) or more seats.

Under the Ordinance, a “Covered Restaurant Employer” is an employer with more than 500 employees, regardless of where the employees are employed, or is a Franchisee associated with a Franchisor or a network of Franchises that employ more than 500 employees in the aggregate.

The Ordinance applies to any employee who (i) was employed for at least six (6) months in the twelve (12) months preceding January 31, 2020, and (ii) whose most recent separation from employment occurred after January 31, 2020, was due to an economic, non-disciplinary reason, including but not limited to a lack of business due to a government-issued stay-at-home order, bankruptcy, or reduction in force. An employee working for a covered employer under the Ordinance need only work at least two (2) hours a week within the City of Oakland. There are additional rules in the ordinance regarding eligible employees.

Under the ordinance, a covered employer must offer eligible laid-off employees, in writing, any job positions that become available after the effective date of the Ordinance that the employee is qualified for with the employer. The employer may provide notice either by registered mail to the employee’s last known physical address, and by email or text to the extent, the employer has that information.

The Ordinance specifies that an eligible employee is qualified for a position if the employee:

  • Held the same or substantially similar position with the employer, or
  • Is or can be qualified for the position with the same training that would be provided to a new employee hired into that position.

Eligible laid-off employees shall be given no less than ten (10) days from the postmark date of the mailed letter and dates of email and text notification to accept or decline the offer.

Employers must also provide written notice to laid-off employees, who are not called back due to lack of qualifications if a person is hired other than a laid-off employee. The notice shall be provided within thirty (30) days of the date of hire. In addition, the employer must document the reason for the decision not to rehire the laid-off employee and must maintain this written document for at least three (3) years.

Jackson Lewis continues to track state and local regulations pertaining to COVID19. If you have questions about compliance with this ordinance or other COVID19 issues, contact a Jackson Lewis attorney to discuss.

On April 16, 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued Executive Order N-51-20, (“Executive Order”) which provides COVID-19 related paid sick leave for “food sector workers” who work for larger employers in the state. The California legislature is now considering codifying those leave requirements with Senate Bill 729.

Read the full article on the Jackson Lewis Disability, Leave & Health Management Blog.

In a new effort to use existing regulations to respond to the ongoing public health emergency, OSHA cited an Ohio healthcare company for alleged serious violations of OSHA’s respirator regulations. OSHA launched an investigation at three of the employer’s healthcare facilities after seven employees were hospitalized with COVID-19.

Even though the employer provided the necessary N95 respirators to its healthcare workers, OSHA alleges that the employer committed two violations of OSHA’s respirator standard: (1) failure to have a written respirator program and (2) failure to provide a medical evaluation to determine employees’ ability to use a respirator in the workplace. OSHA’s press release announced that it cited each of the employer’s three facilities for the same two violations and a total proposed penalty of $40,482.

While OSHA has up to six months to issue a citation, the Administration’s enforcement activity in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to this point has been modest, and the Administration’s critics have called on OSHA to take more aggressive enforcement actions. Similarly, OSHA has faced continued scrutiny to issue emergency regulations that address worker protections against the spread of COVID-19. However, the Administration has consistently pushed back against the need for emergency regulations and argues that its existing regulations—such as the respirator standard cited here—are sufficient to address the risks of COVID-19.

OSHA’s enforcement actions in this matter could suggest greater enforcement is on the horizon. OSHA’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Loren Sweatt, even released a statement highlighting the Administration’s enforcement action, which suggests that the citation has gained attention from OSHA’s leadership in Washington, D.C.

These citations demonstrate that even where employees provide necessary safety equipment, like N95 respirators for health care workers, they still must comply with all technical aspects of OSHA’s regulations. OSHA’s regulations encompass a wide scope of detailed obligations for employers, and even employers who strenuously work to provide a safe workplace can inadvertently violate a regulation.

For now, it does seem that OSHA is carefully cherry-picking cases with seemingly bulletproof facts and has targeted the healthcare industry because of front-line workers’ obvious exposure to COVID-19. In this instance, the cited employer allegedly had seven employees hospitalized due to COVID-19. Those types of facts definitely put a target on an employer’s back. As the numbers of COVID-19 cases rise around the country, particularly in places that were not hard hit at the beginning of the pandemic in March and April, we are likely to see an uptick of enforcement activity from OSHA.

Just because OSHA issues citations, however, does not mean they are valid. The Agency is under pressure to demonstrate that it remains effective in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic without a specific infectious disease standard. Jackson Lewis attorneys are available to assist employers to ensure that they are in compliance with all OSHA regulations and to defend against any citations issued.