Government agencies are increasingly setting their sights on larger targets, ramping up enforcement efforts to root out systemic discrimination. This has important ramifications for employers who may suddenly find themselves defending a claim that, for all intents and purposes, feels like a class action, even though it started as an individual agency charge. With advancements in technology, large data sets on workforces are more common than ever, and government agencies are taking advantage of this and will not hesitate to request data on classes of individuals to search for trends indicating potential discrimination.

EEOC Intensifies Campaign against Systemic Discrimination

In her first public speech since being named as Chair of the EEOC, Charlotte Burrows pledged that the federal government’s workplace civil rights agency will emphasize enforcement of laws to combat systemic discrimination. This commitment to addressing systemic discrimination is consistent with President Biden’s plans to combat racism. (In January, Biden signed an executive order creating a government-wide “racial equity review” and underscoring enforcement of anti-discrimination laws. Read more here.)


Continue Reading Government Agencies Eye Larger Targets: How Employers Can Navigate the Increase in Systemic Litigation

Special thanks to guest contributors Ginger Partee and Matthew Gorman.

As the country awaits confirmation of Judge Merrick Garland, President Joe Biden’s pick for attorney general to head the U.S. Department of Justice, employers in the U.S. should begin to consider what a Biden administration DOJ might mean for their workplace.

Biden has appointed

President Biden did not waste any time after taking office on January 20, 2021. Shortly after the Presidential Oath of Office was administered, Biden signed 17 executive actions, which either impact the workplace or provide insight into what may be forthcoming under the new administration for employers.

A Flurry of Executive Orders on Day One

Biden issued a memorandum to agencies to freeze all last-minute regulations put in motion by the prior administration as President Trump was leaving office. Notably, these regulatory “freeze memos” are not uncommon for incoming administrations to issue. This pause on the prior administration’s last-minute regulations will give the Biden administration the opportunity to evaluate the so-called “midnight regulations” and determine if they will become final, be amended, or rescinded altogether.

He also issued an Executive Order reinforcing that Title VII prohibits the federal government from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Order references the recent Supreme Court case of Bostock v. Clayton County (blogged about here). Specifically, the Order states “[i]t is the policy of my Administration to prevent and combat discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation, and to fully enforce Title VII and other laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.” The Order notes that laws that prohibit sex discrimination (specifically referencing Title IX, the Fair Housing Act, and section 412 of the Immigration and Nationality Act) also prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.


Continue Reading Biden and the Workplace: Early Days, Major Changes

With special thanks to Bradford Newman for this post. 

Ten U.S. senators sent a joint letter to Janet Dhillon, the chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, on Dec. 8, 2020, urging the EEOC to use its powers under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to “investigate and/or enforce against discrimination related

On December 16, 2020, the EEOC posted a new section on vaccinations in its COVID-19-related technical assistance Q&As, only five days after the FDA granted its first Emergency Use Authorization for a COVID-19 vaccine. Section K of the EEOC’s COVID-19 Q&As (“Vaccinations”) updates and expands the EEOC’s publication “What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws,” providing information to employers and employees regarding the impact legal requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) may have on whether and how COVID-19 vaccines can be utilized in the workplace.

The Q&As are linked here, and copied below for ease of reference.

K. Vaccinations

The availability of COVID-19 vaccinations may raise questions about the applicablilty of various equal employment opportunity (EEO) laws, including the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act, GINA, and Title VII, including the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (see Section J, EEO rights relating to pregnancy).  The EEO laws do not interfere with or prevent employers from following CDC or other federal, state, and local public health authorities’ guidelines and suggestions.

1.1  ADA and Vaccinations

K.1. For any COVID-19 vaccine that has been approved or authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), is the administration of a COVID-19 vaccine to an employee by an employer (or by a third party with whom the employer contracts to administer a vaccine) a “medical examination” for purposes of the ADA? (12/16/20)

No.  The vaccination itself is not a medical examination.  As the Commission explained in guidance on disability-related inquiries and medical examinations, a medical examination is “a procedure or test usually given by a health care professional or in a medical setting that seeks information about an individual’s physical or mental impairments or health.”  Examples include “vision tests; blood, urine, and breath analyses; blood pressure screening and cholesterol testing; and diagnostic procedures, such as x-rays, CAT scans, and MRIs.”  If a vaccine is administered to an employee by an employer for protection against contracting COVID-19, the employer is not seeking information about an individual’s impairments or current health status and, therefore, it is not a medical examination.

Although the administration of a vaccination is not a medical examination, pre-screening vaccination questions may implicate the ADA’s provision on disability-related inquiries, which are inquiries likely to elicit information about a disability.  If the employer administers the vaccine, it must show that such pre-screening questions it asks employees are “job-related and consistent with business necessity.”  See Question K.2.


Continue Reading EEOC Issues Much-Anticipated Q&A Guidance on COVID-19 Vaccinations

In the somewhat-near future, US employers actually may be able to replace face coverings, social distancing markers, plexiglass barriers and Zoom calls with face-to-face interaction and handshakes. At least two COVID-19 vaccines are expected to be issued Emergency Use Authorizations (EUA) by the FDA before the end of 2020, following closely behind the footsteps of the UK, which began vaccinations on December 8, 2020.

While this is good news for the country, the change won’t be felt immediately for most US employers. On December 1, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) panel advised that the first vaccine doses should go to health-care workers and long-term care facility residents. The next group up is reportedly other “high risk” groups: bus drivers, factory workers, teachers, older people and people with underlying conditions. At this point, widespread availability of COVID-19 vaccines is not expected until spring or summer of 2021. So, what should US employers whose workforce may not be eligible for vaccinations until later in the year be doing now to prepare?


Continue Reading Coronavirus Vaccines are Coming in the US: What Should US Employers Do Next?

With a surge in COVID-19 cases in parts of the US (and some states taking or considering taking a step backwards into a prior reopening phase), employers are trying to figure out the best ways to keep the virus from spreading in their reopened worksites. We have answered some frequently asked questions below to help employers implement or modify their screening protocol to make it the best fit for their physical workspace, their budget, and their workforce.

1.  Can I check my employees’ temperatures before they enter the  workplace? If my employees have a fever, can I send them home (or tell them not to come to work)?

Yes, employers can check their employees’ temperatures before they enter the workplace. In fact, some states and localities require employers to do daily or weekly checks, so check your local requirements.

A temperature check is a medical examination under the ADA, and in ordinary times, employers generally cannot require employees to submit to a temperature check. However, given COVID-19’s rise to the level of pandemic, and the CDC and state and local health authorities’ acknowledgment of the community spread of COVID-19 and issuance of precautions, EEOC guidance allows employers to check employees’ temperatures before they enter the workplace. Temperature checks are only permitted while the virus is severe, so as the level of community spread diminishes in your locality make sure that temperature checks are still permitted before you administer them.

In addition, employers can send employees home (or tell them not to come to work) if they have a fever or any of the other symptoms of COVID-19. See EEOC guidance and CDC guidance, “Separate Sick Employees.” The CDC defines a fever as 100.4 F or 38 C or above. States may have different guidance regarding what qualifies as a “fever,” with some states defining a “fever” as a flat 100 F, and employers can set lower temperature thresholds if they prefer.


Continue Reading Employee Testing for COVID-19: What Works Now for Your Worksite?

On June 11 and June 17, 2020, the EEOC updated “What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws,” its Q&A technical assistance guidance for COVID-19 related issues. The new guidance expands its previous guidance, answering additional questions on several topics, including COVID-19 antibody tests, “high risk” employees (which we blogged about here), accommodations for employee screenings, how to handle national origin discrimination, and whether an employer’s safety concerns permit the exclusion of pregnant or older people from the workplace. We have summarized the new Q&A below.

Disability-Related Inquiries and Medical Exams

A.7. CDC said in its Interim Guidelines that antibody test results “should not be used to make decisions about returning persons to the workplace.” In light of this CDC guidance, under the ADA may an employer require antibody testing before permitting employees to re-enter the workplace?

No. An antibody test constitutes a medical examination under the ADA. In light of CDC’s Interim Guidelines that antibody test results “should not be used to make decisions about returning persons to the workplace,” an antibody test at this time does not meet the ADA’s “job related and consistent with business necessity” standard for medical examinations or inquiries for current employees. Therefore, requiring antibody testing before allowing employees to re-enter the workplace is not allowed under the ADA. Please note that an antibody test is different from a test to determine if someone has an active case of COVID-19 (i.e., a viral test). The EEOC has already stated that COVID-19 viral tests are permissible under the ADA.

The EEOC will continue to closely monitor CDC’s recommendations, and could update this discussion in response to changes in CDC’s recommendations.


Continue Reading More on the Return to Work: the EEOC Issues New COVID-19 Related Guidance

We hope you found our first three weeks of video chats to be helpful and informative. Due to popular demand, we are continuing this series of quick and bite-sized video chats, where our employment partners team up with practitioners in various areas of law to discuss the most pressing issues for employers navigating the return

Are you ready to protect employees at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 as you reopen? That’s a question the CDC asks in its recently-released guidance for employers considering reopening. And the EEOC recently issued three new Q&As in the “Return to Work” section of its technical assistance guidance for COVID-19, instructing employers on managing “high risk” employees in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The below Q&A provides direction for employers regarding “high risk” employees returning to the workplace and reasonable accommodations to help keep those employees safer at work.

What is my employee required to do to request a reasonable accommodation if the employee has a medical condition the CDC says could put the employee at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19?

The employee (or the employee’s representative, such as the employee’s doctor) must let you know the employee (i) needs a work accommodation (ii) for a reason related to the medical condition. The request can be made in conversation or writing, and does not need to use the term “reasonable accommodation” or even reference the ADA. Therefore, to ensure you don’t unintentionally run afoul of the ADA by missing a request for a reasonable accommodation, we recommend you review every communication from an employee (or employee’s representative) stating that the employee has a medical condition requiring a change at work as one that may require a reasonable accommodation. It is also important to train managers to be aware of these requests and to immediately inform HR if an employee mentions needing a change at work because of a medical condition.


Continue Reading From Safer-at-Home to Safer-at-Work: the EEOC Issues Guidance to Help Reopening Employers Manage “High Risk” Employees