President-Elect Biden Announces Boston Mayor Marty Walsh as his Choice for Secretary of Labor

By: Kara M. MacielEric J. Conn, and Beeta B. Lashkari

On January 7, 2021, President-elect Joe Biden announced his much-awaited choice for nominee to serve as Secretary of Labor, selecting Boston Mayor Marty Walsh.  Mayor Walsh made his mark as a labor leader, ultimately heading the Building and Construction Trades Council from 2011 to 2013.   Mr. Walsh was also a full-time legislator, serving in the Massachusetts state legislature for some 17 years before being elected mayor in 2014.Picture1

If confirmed, it is expected that Mayor Walsh’s close personal friendship with President-elect Biden will elevate the importance of the Labor Department in President Biden’s cabinet, allowing a Secretary Walsh significant influence in the Administration.

Mayor Walsh’s strong ties to organized labor and his selection follows through on President-elect Biden’s campaign promise to give unions a stronger voice in labor policy in his Administration. Mayor Walsh has a reputation as a “pragmatic dealmaker,” and he is respected in Massachusetts by both business and labor for his reasonable approach to solving labor and employment issues facing the state.

Of the many issues likely to be tackled by the Labor Department over the next few years, one of the first and most impactful will be the likely issuance of a federal COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard by OSHA, and possibly by MSHA as well.  President-elect Biden has pledged to have OSHA quickly address this issue, however he has not expressly commented on a MSHA ETS.  If a federal ETS is promulgated, it would replace the current Administration’s approach, which has relied heavily on CDC and agency guidance, as well as existing OSHA standards, like the respiratory protection standard and recordkeeping rules, to issue citations.  With respect to COVID-19, under Mayor Walsh’s leadership, the City of Boston implemented a broad array of sector-specific workplace instructions for businesses designed to limit the spread of the virus, including requirements for face coverings, social distancing, building capacity limits, staggered work shifts, and worksite ventilation improvements.

As Labor secretary, Mr. Walsh would be responsible not just for worker protection standards, but also for renewed paid family-leave benefits and expanded access to unemployment insurance, among myriad other responsibilities.  Likewise, it is expected that DOL under a Biden Administration would rescind a just-finalized regulation issued over the appropriate test for classifying whether workers are independent contractors or employees.

Republicans like House Education and Labor Committee Ranking Member Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) are already pushing back on President-elect Biden’s selection, warning that Mr. Walsh’s labor background signals that he will try to impose “punitive one-size-fits-all regulations” on employers.  Nonetheless, based on his track record, it is expected that Mr. Walsh may make efforts to force compromise between business and labor rather than taking a more ideological, anti-business approach that would likely have been followed had President-elect Biden nominated Senator Bernie Sanders as Labor Secretary, who is said to have wanted the post.

While his selection awaits the Senate confirmation process, Mr. Walsh could be confirmed by a simple majority vote that would not require backing from a single Republican senator.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year from Conn Maciel Carey!

From all of us here in the national MSHA Workplace Safety Practice Group at Conn Maciel Carey, to all of you, happy holidays and happy New Year.  We wish you a joyful and safe holiday season, and a 2021 that helps us all forget about this challenging year.

Please enjoy this holiday greeting from the CMC family to your family:

Despite this relentless year, we have so much to be thankful for at Conn Maciel Carey, but most of all, we thank you all for continuing to turn to us for counsel and legal services.  Please contact us if you have questions about any of the topics we have covered here on the MSHA Defense Report blog, or if you have ideas for other subjects we should be covering.  And of course, contact any of us if there is ever anything our national MSHA Workplace Safety Practice Group at Conn Maciel Carey can do to help you or your company with MSHA law issues.

[Bonus Webinar] Conversation with the Director of NIOSH about COVID-19 in the Workplace

On Monday, December 21, 2020 at 1 p.m. ET, join Kate McMahon, a Partner in Conn Maciel Carey’s national OSHA Practice, and special guest Dr. John Howard, the Director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), for a one-on-one Q&A event regarding COVID-19 in the workplace.

Cases continue to spike throughout the United States, while employers try to keep pace with ever-shifting guidance from the CDC, OSHA, and state and county health departments, and face several new COVID-19 emergency regulations around the country. NIOSH works closely with the CDC to develop its COVID-19 guidance and to help educate Industry on effective infection control and response strategies. NIOSH also provides support to the White House Coronavirus Taskforce and assists states and local health departments develop effect strategies and policy to address COVID-19 in the workplace.

Through this Q&A session, Dr. John Howard, the Director of NIOSH for 17 years and counting, provides detailed insight and advice on the workplace safety and health implications of COVID-19 and what employers can expect next and how they can protect their workers from this pandemic. Participants in this webinar will learn: Continue reading

[Webinar Recording] Legal Responsibilities and Liabilities for Mine Operators and Contractors at MSHA Facilities

On December 1, 2020, Nick Scala of Conn Maciel Carey presented a webinar regarding Legal Responsibilities and Liabilities for Mine Operators and Contractors at MSHA Facilities.

Dec. 2020 webinar Snip

The relationship between production operator and independent contractor at a mine site is more critical than ever to the industry. Most operations welcome contractors on site to perform tasks, from routine equipment maintenance, to specialty construction and service. With the increase in contractors in the mining industry, MSHA recently noted a sharp increase in the number of serious and fatal injuries sustained by contractors. Now, independent contractors will be under a microscope when at mine sites. Therefore, it is essential for production operations and their contractors to understand the obligations of each party under MSHA. This webinar will review the delineation of responsibilities for both production and independent contractors. It will also provide strategies for working cooperatively while protecting each company’s interests.

During this webinar, participants learned about: Continue reading

CDC Updates Return-to-Work Guidance Again – Reduces Quarantine Time

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

As we noted in a Client Alert last month, the CDC issued its new guidance for “Close Contacts” in a way that would make quarantine circumstances much more likely; i.e., CDC’s new definition of close contact makes it explicit that the 15-minute exposure period (i.e., within 6-feet of an infected individual for 15 minutes) should be assessed based on a cumulative amount of time over 24 hours, rather than just a single, continuous 15-minute interaction.

Today, the CDC issued new guidance that would reduce the duration of many quarantines from 14 days to 10 days and, in some cases to 7 days.  Specifically, CDC identified the following options as acceptable alternatives to a 14-day quarantine:

  • Quarantine can end after Day 10 without testing and if no symptoms have been reported during daily monitoring.
  • If testing is available, then quarantine can end after Day 7 if a respiratory specimen tests negative and no symptoms were reported during daily monitoring.  The specimen may be collected and tested within 48 hours before the time of planned quarantine discontinuation (e.g., in anticipation of testing delays), but quarantine cannot be discontinued earlier than after Day 7; i.e., testing should be initiated no earlier than Day 5 after the close contact exposure occurs.

In either scenario, additional criteria Continue reading

What Employers Need to Know About Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccines

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

With the availability of a safe, effective COVID-19 vaccine edging closer and closer, employers understandably have a number of questions regarding their role in the workplace – whether and when they can require a vaccination, what exceptions are required in a mandatory vaccination program, and whether they should require (as opposed to encourage and facilitate) the COVID-19 vaccine for employees once it becomes available.  This summer, the World Health Organization reported that nearly 200 potential vaccines were currently being developed in labs across the world, and as of mid-October, disclosed that more than 40 had advanced to clinical stage testing on humans.  Drug manufacturers estimate that a vaccine will be ready and approved for general use by the end of this year, although logistically not ready for widespread distribution until mid-2021.  Indeed, just over the past couple of weeks, Pfizer and Moderna have made promising announcements regarding the results of their clinical trials.  Namely, on Monday, November 9, 2020, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that a vaccine candidate against COVID-19 achieved success in the firm interim analysis from the Phase 3 study.  The vaccine candidate was found to be more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 in participants without evidence of prior SARS-CoV-2 infection in the first interim efficacy analysis.  According to the announcement, submission for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is planned for soon after the required safety milestone is achieved, which is currently expected to occur in the third week of November.  Additionally, as reported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on November 16, 2020, there have been promising interim results from a clinical trial of a NIH-Modern COVID-19 vaccine.  An independent data and safety monitoring board (DSMB) reported that the vaccine candidate was safe and well-tolerated and noted a vaccine efficacy rate of 94.5%.  Accordingly, as the reality of a vaccination nears, employers are inquiring whether they can and should mandate the vaccine for their employees.

  1. Can Employers Require Employees to Take the COVID-19 Vaccine?

As a threshold matter, it should be noted that, according to a member of the federal advisory panel on immunizations that will be making recommendations to the CDC on who should get the first doses, vaccines authorized under the FDA’s emergency use authority, as these COVID-19 vaccinations will be at the start, cannot be mandated.  Any COVID-19 vaccine brought to market under an EUA instead of the normal non-emergency approval process will, by necessity, lack long term safety data.  Once a vaccine receives an EUA from FDA, FDA has authorized the vaccine for use according to the terms of the EUA.

In general though, employers can require vaccination as a term and condition of employment, but such practice is not without limitations, nor is it always recommended.  Although the issue is only now coming to the forefront of our national conscience, mandatory vaccinations in the workplace are not new, and have been particularly prevalent among healthcare providers.  Some variability exists under federal law and among federal agencies, but for the most part, mandatory vaccination programs are permissible, as long as employers consider religious accommodation requests under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and medical accommodation requests under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

OSHA has long taken the position that employers can require employees to take flu and other vaccines, but emphasizes that employees “need to be properly informed of the benefits of vaccinations.”  In the healthcare industry, for example, Continue reading

Important COVID-19 Update: “Close Contact” Redefined to Include 15 Minutes Cumulative

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

We want to alert you to a significant COVID-19 development out of the CDC yesterday.  Specifically, the CDC just announced a material revision to its definition of “Close Contact.”  The new definition makes it explicit that the 15-minute exposure period (i.e., within 6-feet of an infected individual for 15 minutes) should be assessed based on a cumulative amount of time over 24 hours, not just a single, continuous 15-minute interaction.

Here is the new definition included on the CDC’s website:

Close Contact – Someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period* starting from 2 days before illness onset (or, for asymptomatic patients, 2 days prior to test specimen collection) until the time the patient is isolated.

* Individual exposures added together over a 24-hour period (e.g., three 5-minute exposures for a total of 15 minutes). Data are limited, making it difficult to precisely define “close contact;” however, 15 cumulative minutes of exposure at a distance of 6 feet or less can be used as an operational definition for contact investigation. Factors to consider when defining close contact include proximity (closer distance likely increases exposure risk), the duration of exposure (longer exposure time likely increases exposure risk), whether the infected individual has symptoms (the period around onset of symptoms is associated with the highest levels of viral shedding), if the infected person was likely to generate respiratory aerosols (e.g., was coughing, singing, shouting), and other environmental factors (crowding, adequacy of ventilation, whether exposure was indoors or outdoors). Because the general public has not received training on proper selection and use of respiratory PPE, such as an N95, the determination of close contact should generally be made irrespective of whether the contact was wearing respiratory PPE.  At this time, differential determination of close contact for those using fabric face coverings is not recommended.​

CDC’s revised view of what constitutes a Close Contact is based on an exposure study at a correctional facility.  Here is the CDC’s public notice about the correctional facility analysis.  The analysis apparently revealed that virus was spread to a 20-year-old prison employee who interacted with individuals who later tested positive for the virus, after 22 interactions that took place over 17 minutes during an eight-hour shift.  

An important consequence of this revision is the impact it will have on employers’ ability to maintain staffing because it establishes a much lower threshold trigger for required quarantine.

Recall that the CDC and OSHA recommend that an employee quarantine for 14 days if s/he experiences a Close Contact exposure with someone who later is determined to have been COVID positive at the time of the contact. Continue reading

[Webinar Recording] Attorney-Client Privileged Audits and Investigations and OSHA’s Self-Audit Policy

On September 22, 2020, Nick Scala, Kate McMahon, and Micah Smith of Conn Maciel Carey presented a webinar regarding Attorney-Client Privileged Audits and Investigations and OSHA’s Self-Audit Policy. Privileged-Audits-and-Investigations-Sept-2020-2 Safety and health audits and accident or near-miss investigations are invaluable tools to identify hazards at a workplace and improve safety, but what happens when a government regulator demands copies of the reports and/or recommendations from the audit or investigation? When not done carefully or under attorney-client privilege, audit and investigation reports can serve as admissions and/or a roadmap for OSHA and MSHA investigators or plaintiffs’ attorneys regarding areas of non-compliance. This in turn can create a disincentive for employers to audit their facilities. This webinar explored the benefits of conducting audits and investigations at the direction of counsel so as to improve safety and compliance while also protecting the company and management from adverse use by 3rd party litigants or regulators. We reviewed audit and investigation and report-writing strategies and best practices. We also reviewed OSHA’s policy on self-audits and the reality of OSHA’s use of voluntary self-audits during inspections. And we reviewed best practices to manage MSHA’s unlimited lookback period for enforcement. Participants in this webinar learned about: Continue reading

Conn Maciel Carey Expands Midwest Practice with Addition of Talented L&E Attorney

Conn Maciel Carey LLP, a boutique law firm with national practices in OSHA • Workplace Safety, Labor & Employment, and Litigation, is pleased to announce that Ashley Mitchell has joined the firm as an attorney in its Chicago office.

Ms. Mitchell, an employment litigator, will represent clients in a wide range of employment litigation and counsel clients on the myriad legal issues employers face in the workplace.  She also will defend employers in inspections, investigations and enforcement actions involving federal OSHA and neighboring state plan agencies.

“Ashley brings a unique perspective to our employment litigation, counseling and training practice having started her career working with prominent plaintiff-side employment law firms here in Chicago, where she also developed experience dealing with policies, procedures and practices that directly impact workplace safety and health,” said Aaron Gelb, co-head of the firm’s Chicago office.  “Ashley is ideally suited to pivot from working on pension withdrawal matters one day to preparing for a labor arbitration the next,” said Mark Trapp, co-head of the Chicago office.

“We are committed to strategically growing our practices and geographic locations, and adding Ashley to our seasoned team in the Midwest will allow Conn Maciel Carey to continue to provide the excellent client service with a focus on practical and creative advice that our national and regional clients are looking for,” said Kara Maciel, Chair of the firm’s Labor • Employment Practice. Eric Conn, Chair of the firm’s OSHA • Workplace Safety Practice added, “Our Chicago office has grown strategically since opening in January 2018, particularly on the OSHA front during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Ashley will play an integral role as we further expand our workplace safety services throughout the Midwest.”

Ms. Mitchell said, “I was drawn to Conn Maciel Carey by its collegial environment and nationally recognized Labor & Employment and OSHA practices. Leveraging my labor and employment experience, I am looking forward to working with the CMC Team to enhance my knowledge of workplace safety law so that I may be the best advocate for our clients. I am excited to join such a distinguished and dynamic group of attorneys.”

Here is a link to a press release issued by the Firm about this exciting development.

CDC Revises its COVID-19 Return-to-Work Criteria, Again

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

On July 20, 2020, the U.S. Centers Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) made major revisions to its COVID-19 “discontinue home isolation” guidance, upon which employers may rely to determine when it is safe for employees to return to work.  This comes only a couple months after CDC made major revisions to the same guidance document when, on May 3, 2020, it extended the home isolation period from 7 to 10 days since symptoms first appeared for the symptom-based strategy in persons with COVID-19 who have symptoms, and from 7 to 10 days after the date of their first positive test for the time-based strategy in asymptomatic persons with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19.

In its most recent update, Picture1CDC has determined that a test-based strategy is no longer recommended to determine when to discontinue home isolation, except in certain circumstances.  It has also modified its symptom-based strategy in part by changing the number of hours that must pass since last fever without the use of fever-reducing medication from “at least 72 hours” to “at least 24 hours.”  CDC’s revisions should trigger employers to immediately revise their COVID-19 preparedness, response, and control plans to account for the latest changes.  In light of the recent COVID-19 regulation that Virginia promulgated almost at the same time that CDC decided to update its guidance, the revisions also demonstrate that COVID-19 is not the type of hazard easily subject to a regulatory standard.

Revised Guidance

To start, it is important to understand the major changes that CDC has just made.  As you know, prior to CDC’s most recent changes, CDC offered individuals with COVID-19 who had symptoms two options for discontinuing home isolation:

  1. a symptom-based strategy; and
  2. a test-based strategy.

It also offered individuals with COVID-19 who never showed symptoms two options:

  1. a time-based strategy; and
  2. a test-based strategy.

With its most recent update, CDC has essentially eliminated Continue reading