On September 9, 2021, President Joseph Biden announced a comprehensive six-pronged national strategy to combat the COVID-19 pandemic in an action plan titled, End of the pandemic (the plan “). The plan includes COVID-19 vaccination mandates for employees of employers with 100 or more employees, federal contractors and certain healthcare entities. Other aspects of the plan that will have an impact some employers include paid time off for employees to receive and recover from the vaccine, and an expansion of federal financial assistance. Although many details of the plan are still unknown and legal challenges will likely follow, you will find below are some of the main takeaways for employers.
Employers with 100 or more employees
The plan announces that the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) is developing a Temporary Emergency Standard (“ETS”) that will require all employers with 100 or more employees. they make sure their workers are fully vaccinated or produce a negative COVID-19 test result every week before coming to work. The plan states that the ETS will also require covered employers to provide paid time off for the time it takes to get vaccinated and recover from any side effects of the vaccine. These demands are expected to affect more than 80 million workers in the private sector.
The timing of the ETS is not clear, but OSHA is expected to release the ETS in the coming weeks. The ETS will be effective upon posting to the Federal Register. A proposed standing standard will then go through the formal rulemaking process with the opportunity to comment.
In conjunction with the plan, President Biden issued several executive orders, one of which applies to federal contractors. This decree requires federal agencies to include a clause in contracts “specify[ing] that the contractor or sub-contractor must, during the term of the contract, comply with all directives concerning the workplaces of the contractor or the sub-contractor published by the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force…. This requirement applies to new contracts and to the extension or renewal of existing contracts. The Safer Federal Workforce Task has also been ordered, as part of the publication of the Task Force Guidance, to “provide definitions of relevant terms for contractors and sub-contractors, explanations of the protocols required from contractors and contractors. contractors to comply with workplace safety guidelines and all exceptions. working group guidelines that apply to the workplaces of contractors and subcontractors and to persons working on or in connection with a federal government contract or contract-like instrument.
The plan announces that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”) will require COVID-19 vaccinations for workers at most healthcare facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement, including, but not limited to, hospitals, dialysis centers, outpatient surgery, health facilities and home health agencies. This action expands the vaccination requirement for nursing home staff that CMS previously announced. These requirements are expected to impact around 50,000 providers and cover a majority of healthcare workers across the county.
Federal financial assistance
The plan strengthens the COVID Injury-Related Economic Disaster (“EIDL”) Loan Program, which provides long-term, low-cost loans, enabling more small businesses to get more support. important and more flexible thanks to the 150 billion dollars of loanable funds still available in the program. These improvements include:
- the maximum loan amount will be reduced from $ 500,000 to $ 2 million;
- repayment of the loan will not be required until two years after receipt of financing;
- stronger controls will be put in place to ensure that funding is used to support small businesses that really need help, such as restaurants and hotels; and
- an exclusive 30-day access window where only small businesses looking for loans of $ 500,000 or less will receive rewards after the launch of the new and improved loan product.
Additionally, the plan seeks to enhance the paycheck protection program by implementing a new streamlined approach to forgive loans of $ 150,000 or less that are used to fund payroll. As part of the simplified approach, the Small Business Administration (“SBA”) will send a pre-filled application form to the borrower for review, sign and return to the SBA. The SBA will then work with the lender to complete the loan cancellation process.
What should employers do?
- Employers with 100 or more employees are advised to start planning for the next COVID-19 vaccination mandate. For example, informing employees now that the federal mandate is looming can encourage employees to get vaccinated earlier and facilitate compliance once the mandate goes into effect. Covered employers will also need to decide whether to require vaccination (subject to limited exceptions required by law) or allow weekly testing as an alternative. Collecting and tracking weekly test results as well as incurring the costs associated with weekly testing can be a burden for some employers. For those who decide to make vaccination mandatory, employers should review their administrative processes to navigate the interactive process in response to employees seeking exemption from the mandate by requesting accommodations for disabilities and sincere religious beliefs.
- Small businesses in financial difficulty may consider applying for a federal loan under the EIDL program. For those who have already secured such a loan, additional financing may now be available, and if the loan cancellation process seemed too intimidating to begin with, perhaps now is the time to request cancellation through the new streamlined process. .