For the past few years, COVID-19 has been a constant stressor. For businesses, there is some uncertainty around how to best handle the pandemic from a legal standpoint.
As part of our HR Compliance Week event, the HR Daily Advisor held a panel with Tiffany Castagno, CEO of CEPHR LLC, and Meagan Murphy, attorney at Skoler Abott, to better understand what steps companies should take to stay on top of the pandemic.
“The situation has been extremely fluid. There have been a lot of changes,” Castagno says. “It’s been a bit difficult for leaders and organizations to try to navigate all of this.”
At the federal level alone, vaccine mandates are in flux. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) requires healthcare workers to be vaccinated, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) emergency temporary standard (ETS) mandates that companies with over 100 employees must require vaccinations or weekly testing. The Supreme Court upheld the CMS standard, while OSHA’s ETS was overruled as of January 13. Employers are still urged to stay alert, as OSHA will be reevaluating its options to keep workers safe during this pandemic.
The best way for companies to remain in compliance is to stay on top of breaking news and policies.
Steps Toward Compliance
Regarding OSHA’s ETS, the only thing struck down was the mandate to be vaccinated. Voluntary vaccination still stands. Employers still have an option to have private vaccination or testing rules. Murphy explained that employers should still take note of employees’ vaccination status, and leaders should start to develop and implement policies regarding vaccine mandates.
In addition, employers need to ensure that they are following their state and municipal COVID-19 rules.
“Make sure your employees are clear on [your COVID-19 policy],” Castagno says. “There is a lot of ambiguity right now, and you don’t want to add to the anxiety or other mental health concerns of your team.”
State Laws and Remote Work
Many businesses are moving to hybrid or entirely remote work. In addressing a return to the office, leaders need to ensure they’re in compliance with federal COVID-19 guidelines, as well as state labor laws. As remote work grows in popularity, some organizations are hiring workers who operate in an entirely different state than the company itself.
Murphy explains, “It’s possible [employers] may have to be aware of and provide certain rights and benefits to employees working in a different state. It’s entirely dependent on what that state law says.”
Certain states, and even cities, prioritize where the employee is located. In those situations, employees will get said benefits regardless of where their employer is. Family, medical, military, and paid leave laws, in particular, can be dependent on where an employee lives.
In a similar vein, accommodation requests are more common than ever. While many employers are moving to hybrid work, just as many employees are making Americans with Disability Act (ADA) requests for remote work accommodations.
“The courts don’t see remote work as such an undue burden on the employer. They don’t think it’s an unreasonable request for a lot of employees,” Murphy says. “Courts are going to see a work from home accommodation to be much more reasonable and something they’re going to expect employers to grant way more than they ever used to.”
As such, businesses should handle work-from-home requests with caution, logic, and understanding.
The pandemic is not as one-dimensional as simply following federal guidelines. Businesses must consider all possible areas of legal repercussions to best maintain compliance.
To prepare for current and future compliance, knowledge and action are necessary. As Castagno says, “As HR professionals, and as leaders, we want to sat as much at the forefront of [change] as possible.”
Be sure to check out our on-demand panel session for more information.