The Road Ahead Following the April 10 End of the National Emergency

We have all grown accustomed to hand sanitizer, 6-feet distance markings in hallways, face masks–and the back and forth of surging and waning COVID-19 levels in the workplace and the community. But with President Biden’s April 10 termination of the COVID-19 national emergency, can these pandemic mainstays–and employers’ pandemic policies and procedures–finally be relegated to a distant memory? Should they be? As Dr. Anthony Fauci said in a recent interview, “Everybody wants this outbreak behind us.”

Mapping the Road Forward

With little fanfare, on April 10, President Biden quietly signed a GOP-led resolution terminating the COVID-19 national emergency. Separately, on May 1 the Biden Administration announced an end to the federal COVID-19 vaccination requirements for federal employees, federal contractors, and international travelers on May 11, the same day the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency ends. The US Department of Health and Human Services and the US Department of Homeland Security also announced they will start the process to end vaccination requirements for Head Start educators, CMS-certified healthcare facilities, and certain noncitizens at the land border.

So can employers throw out all of their COVID-19 policies and procedures? Not quite.Continue Reading Can US Employers Finally Leave COVID-19 in the Rearview Mirror?

New Jersey may have started a trend. As of April 10, covered New Jersey employers must now comply with new requirements under the New Jersey mini-WARN Act (see our blog here). New York and California are giving chase, with proposed amendments to New York State’s WARN Act regulations, New York State’s WARN Act, and California’s WARN Act. And New York employers should take note: New York’s WARN Portal is set to go live this month.

Proposed Amendments to NYS WARN Regulations–And a New NYS WARN Portal

The New York State Department of Labor has proposed amendments to the New York State WARN Act (“NYS WARN”) regulations that are intended to account for the post-pandemic workforce, including clarifying how remote work impacts NYS WARN compliance and simplifying language to ensure employers understand their obligations under the law. The Department of Labor is accepting comments to the proposed regulations until May 30, 2023. 

Key items in the proposed amendments to the NYS WARN regulations include:

  • Remote employees included in threshold count: The employers covered by NYS WARN has been expanded to include any employer who employs 50 or more full-time employees, who work at the single site of employment plus individuals that work remotely but are based at the employment site, which may include remote employees in New York as well as other states.
  • Certain notices must be provided electronically: Notices being sent to the New York State Department of Labor Commissioner (“Commissioner”) must be provided electronically and are no longer required to have original signatures.
  • Notice must include additional information: The notice to the Commissioner must include more detailed information about the affected employees, including telephone numbers, job titles, and whether they are paid on an hourly, salary or commission basis. The notice to affected employees must include any other information relevant to their separation, such as information related to any financial incentives an employee may receive if they remain employed by the employer until the effective date of the employment loss, as well as available dislocated worker information.
  • The exceptions for notice are changing:
    • Faltering company exception reduced: The faltering company exception will apply only to plant closings, and will no longer apply to mass layoffs, relocations or reductions in hours.
    • Unforeseeable business circumstances exception expanded: The unforeseeable business circumstances exception will be expanded to expressly include in certain circumstances a public health emergency (including a pandemic) or a terrorist attack.
    • Exception to notice requires determination by Commissioner: The 90-day notice period can be reduced in limited circumstances (including under the faltering company, unforeseeable business circumstances, and natural disaster exceptions) only if:
      • The employer submits a request for consideration for eligibility of an exception to the Commissioner within 10 business days of providing the required notice under NYS WARN to the Commissioner (unless the Commissioner grants an extension);
      • The employer provides a reason for reducing the notice period in addition to any other documents the Commissioner may require; and
      • The Commissioner determines that the employer has established all of the elements of the claimed exception.
  • The calculation of back pay is being clarified for hourly employees: The calculation to be used to determine the average rate of compensation and final rate of compensation for hourly employees is clarified. Such calculation uses the number of hours worked instead of the number of days worked. The days worked method of calculation should still be used for non-hourly employees.
  • The use of payment in lieu of notice is being clarified: Liability for an employer’s failure to give the required notice to employees under NYS WARN will be reduced by amounts paid to an employee in lieu of notice, except where the following conditions are met (then such payments will be considered wages for the notice period):
    • There is an employment agreement or uniformly applied company policy that requires the employer to give the employee a certain amount of notice before a layoff or separation;
    • The employee is laid off without the required notice; and
    • The employer pays the employee an amount equal to the employee’s wages and any benefits for the required notice period.

Continue Reading Employer WARN-ING: Potential Changes to New York’s and California’s WARN Acts Barreling Down the Turnpike

Effective April 10, covered New Jersey employers must comply with new requirements under the New Jersey mini-WARN Act. New Jersey will join New York and Maine as one of three jurisdictions where employers are required to provide 90 days’ advanced notice to affected employees. (See our prior blog here).

Key changes to NJ-WARN include the following:

  • The employers covered by NJ-WARN has been expanded by the amendments, to include any employer who employs 100 or more employees, whether full-time or not (previously it required employment of 100 or more full-time employees).
  • The threshold for a “mass layoff” triggering NJ-WARN has been reduced significantly. Under the amended law, a “mass layoff” means the termination of 50 or more employees at a covered establishment in a 30-day period. Previously, a mass layoff meant (i) the termination of 50 or more employees comprising 1/3 of the workforce at the establishment, or (ii) the termination of 500 or more employees.
  • The scope of employees that count toward the 50-employee threshold for a “mass layoff” has been expanded:
    • Both employees “at” the establishment and “reporting to” the establishment are counted, which may include remote employees in New Jersey as well as other states. Prior to the amendments, the threshold for a mass layoff included 50 or more employees “at” the establishment.
    • Both part-time and full-time employees must be counted toward the threshold. Previously, only full-time employees counted toward the threshold.
  • The definition of a covered “establishment” has been expanded to include a non-contiguous group of locations / facilities of an employer within the State (previously it applied to contiguous worksites / office parks of an employer). Based on the amendment’s legislative history, this appears to be aimed at retail companies with multiple locations in the State. However, it is unclear how this could apply to largely or entirely remote workforces, and how it “squares” with the inclusion of remote, out of state, employees in the 50 employee threshold.
  • Covered employers will be required to provide at least 90 days’ notice (as opposed to the prior 60 days’ notice) before the first termination of employment occurs in connection with a termination or transfer of operations, or mass layoff. If the employer fails to provide 90 days’ notice, the employer is required to provide the terminated employee with four weeks of pay (which is a new requirement) in addition to statutory severance (see next bullet point).
  • In addition to notice, covered employers will be required to provide severance pay equal to one week of pay for each full year of employment to each terminated employee. (Previously, the law required one week of severance pay for each year worked only if the employer failed to provide the required 60 days’ notice.)

Overall review of NJ-WARN amendments

Here’s a quick review of what will be required once the amendments take effect.

Triggering events

NJ-WARN applies to employers with 100 or more employees anywhere in the US, when:

  • A covered establishment transfers or terminates operations which results, during any continuous period of not more than 30 days, in the termination of 50 or more employees; or
  • An employer conducts a mass layoff (i.e., termination of 50 or more employees in a 30-day period) at a covered establishment.

Terminations for cause or poor performance excluded

Although NJ-WARN’s “termination of employment” definition excludes (1) voluntary departures, (2) retirement, and (3) terminations for misconduct, the statute does not clearly specify whether ordinary terminations for cause or poor performance can trigger its requirements. But our research into NJ-WARN’s legislative history strongly suggests that terminations for cause or poor performance are not covered by NJ-WARN. In the February 27, 2006 New Jersey Assembly Labor Committee hearing, NJ-WARN’s lead senate sponsor clarified that the legislation was not intended to apply to employees terminated for poor performance.

Note on aggregation

Under the new amendments, an employer whose layoff decision affects employees at multiple New Jersey worksites may be subject to NJ-WARN’s notice and severance requirements even if less than 50 employees are terminated at each individual worksite.

To determine whether a termination or transfer of operations or mass layoff is subject to NJ-WARN’s notification requirements, employers generally must aggregate any terminations of employment for two or more groups at a single “establishment” occurring within any 90-day period. If the aggregate number of terminations of all the groups is 50 or more, then the terminations are subject to NJ-WARN’s notice and severance requirements (unless the employer can demonstrate that each group’s cause of terminations is separate and distinct from the other groups’ causes). And since the definition of an “establishment” has been expanded to include an employer’s non-contiguous group of locations / facilities within New Jersey, multi-site employers should consider the aggregate impact of any layoff decision affecting multiple worksites.

Remote workforce

NJ-WARN’s updated “mass layoff” and “establishment” definitions have also created some ambiguity regarding the statute’s application to remote employees. Specifically, a “mass layoff” now includes employees “at or reporting to” the “establishment.” And since “establishment” has been amended to include “a group of locations,” there is an argument that terminated remote employees should be counted for purposes of determining NJ-WARN applicability. But the legislative history of the NJ-WARN amendments suggests the changes were aimed at retail companies with multiple locations in New Jersey, and therefore NJ-WARN’s application to remote employees remains unclear.Continue Reading Next Month NJ Employers Must Comply With New Not-So-Mini Obligations Under Its Mini-WARN Act

New year, new Cal/OSHA COVID-19 regulations. The non-emergency COVID-19 prevention regulations (“New Regulations”) still await the Office of Administrative Law’s approval, but will likely take effect in the next few weeks. Employers eagerly await the end of the Emergency Temporary Standard’s (“ETS”) more burdensome requirements, such as exclusion pay and reporting outbreaks to local health

Effective January 1, 2023, California employers must continue to provide notification to employees of COVID-19 exposure in the workplace through 2023, but will be able to satisfy the notification obligation by displaying a notice in the workplace. On September 29, Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 2693 into law, revising and extending the existing obligation for

It is official.  California has joined Colorado, Washington and New York City in requiring job posting to include pay ranges. Today (September 27, 2022), Governor Newsom signed SB 1162 into law, requiring California employers with 15 or more employees to include the salary or hourly wage range of positions in job listings. SB 1162 also

As the COVID-19 Omicron wave recedes and the desire to get back to a pre-pandemic “normal” is stronger than ever, scores of states have either lifted mask mandates or have set a date for lifting them. But what should employers take into account before allowing employees to toss masks aside?

In this Quick Chat video,

As the Omicron wave recedes, a raft of states have announced plans to lift their mask mandates.

In the past few days alone, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Rhode Island have announced changes to their face covering rules. And if the number of Omicron cases continues to dwindle

On January 13, 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued an opinion ruling that the parties challenging OSHA’s COVID-19 Vaccine and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard, which required private US employers with 100 or more employees to mandate vaccination or regular testing of their workforce, were likely to succeed on the merits of

On January 13, 2022, the Supreme Court issued two opinions in which the Court (1) blocked enforcement of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s COVID-19 Vaccine and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard (OSHA ETS) and (2) allowed enforcement of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) vaccine mandate for healthcare workers at Medicare and Medicaid covered facilities.

While the federal contractor vaccination mandate (Contractor Mandate) was not the subject of those cases, the Supreme Court’s decisions hint at its future–and it’s grim.

The Contractor Mandate is Currently Stayed

The Contractor Mandate is currently stayed by multiple district courts. And the 6th Circuit and the 11th Circuit have both declined to lift those stays. There are two more appeals pending in the 5th and 8th Circuits. Resolution of these cases will take months. In the meantime, the federal government cannot enforce the Contractor Mandate. Therefore, the likeliest option is that the Supreme Court simply lets the various Contractor Mandate cases run their course.

However, there’s always a chance the Supreme Court decides to intervene and hear appeals on the stays – as it did with the OSHA ETS and CMS vaccine mandate. If this happens, the Contractor Mandate is in trouble. Here’s why.

The OSHA Opinion (NFIB v. OSHA): OSHA Is Not Authorized to Regulate Public Health

First, an overview of the Supreme Court’s OSHA opinion. On January 13, 2022, the conservative majority of Supreme Court ruled that the parties challenging the ETS are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim that OSHA lacked statutory authority to impose the ETS. The majority held that while OSHA is empowered by statute to regulate workplace safety standards and occupational hazards, it has not been authorized to regulate “public health standards” and “the hazards of daily life” more broadly.

The Court acknowledged that the pandemic is a risk that occurs in many workplaces, but distinguished COVID-19 from the typical occupational hazard because it has spread everywhere “that people gather.” The Court characterized COVID-19 as a “kind of universal risk” that is no different from the “day-to-day dangers that all face from crime, air pollution or any number of communicable diseases.” The Court concluded that permitting OSHA to regulate the hazards of daily life simply because most Americans have jobs and face those same risks while working would significantly expand OSHA’s regulatory purview.

The Court said that “we expect Congress to speak clearly when authorizing an agency to exercise powers of vast economic and political significance.” After reviewing the statutory text, the Court found that the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) does not clearly authorize OSHA to regulate public health through the ETS. The Court further noted that OSHA has “never before adopted a broad public health regulation…addressing a threat that is untethered…from the workplace.” Put simply, the Court decided that the ETS is not “what the agency was built for.”Continue Reading What Does the Supreme Court’s Stay of the OSHA ETS Mean for the Federal Contractor Vaccine Mandate? Don’t Count On It Surviving Judicial Review.