HR Leads Business

Oct 18, 2021 | Neil Reichenberg, HRCI Contributing Writer

Vaccine Requirement Implementation Deadline Set

The Biden Administration has announced the deadline for federal contractors to receive their COVID-19 vaccinations, while a lawsuit has been filed challenging the requirement that federal employees be vaccinated. The Administration also plans to focus on protecting workers from extreme heat while the Labor Department has finalized the tipped worker regulation and released the annual employee benefits report.

Federal Contractor Vaccine Deadlines Announced – The Safer Federal Workforce Taskforce has issued guidance setting December 8th as the deadline for employees of federal contractors to receive COVID-19 vaccinations unless they are entitled to an accommodation. The taskforce had previously set November 22nd as the deadline for federal employees to be fully vaccinated.

Contractors may be required to provide an accommodation to their employees who communicated that they are not vaccinated against COVID-19 due to a disability or a sincerely held religious belief, practice or observance.

A lawsuit has been filed in the U.S. District Court for Washington by military and civilian employees challenging the requirement that federal employees be vaccinated. There have been several other lawsuits challenging vaccine mandates filed by employees against both governments and the private sector. Additionally, the Arizona attorney general has filed the first lawsuit challenging the requirement that employers with at least 100 employees be vaccinated or subject to weekly testing, with other attorney generals are expected to file similar lawsuits.  

Administration Announces Steps to Protect Workers from Extreme Heat – As part of a broader initiative to respond to extreme heat, the Biden Administration released a fact sheet that includes several steps that will be implemented to protect workers. The fact sheet observed that “Heat is a growing workplace hazard, with the climate crisis making extreme heat more frequent and severe.”

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will be initiating a rulemaking process focused on heat illness prevention in outdoor and indoor work settings. An Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking will be published soon in the Federal Register soliciting comments on this issue.

OSHA plans to launch a new enforcement initiative to protect workers in hazardous indoor and outdoor work settings. OSHA will prioritize interventions and workplace inspections on days when the heat index exceeds 80 degrees. OSHA’s efforts to educate and assist employers with heat illness prevention will be expanded.

OSHA also will be developing a National Emphasis Program (NEP) on heat inspections that will target high-risk industries and focus resources and staff on heat inspections. The goal is to complete the NEP prior to Summer 2022. Finally, a Heat Illness Prevention Work Group is being formed as part of the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health. The work group will provide a better understanding of the challenges and best practices in protecting workers from heat hazards.   

DOL Finalizes Tipped Workers Regulation – The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has finalized a regulation allowing it to assess civil money penalties against employers who take the tips earned by their employees. The revised regulation becomes effective on November 23, 2021. In announcing the revised regulation, Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh stated, “Workers who depend on tipped wages are every bit as entitled to expect to keep what they’ve earned as other workers.”

According to DOL, the regulation withdraws the provisions concerning civil money penalties that was included in the 2020 final tip rule that would have allowed the department to assess civil money penalties for violations only when employers kept the tips of their workers, and the violations were either repeated or willful.

The revised regulation, based on the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 allows DOL to impose civil money penalties up to $1,100 when employers keep employees’ tips in violation of the law regardless of whether violations are repeated or willful. Managers are only allowed to keep tips when they receive the tips directly from customers for service, they “directly and solely provided.”

BLS Issues Employee Benefits Report – The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) issued its 2021 employee benefits report that is based on information provided by a total of 7,439 organizations with 6,007 being in the private sector and 1,432 from state and local government. Highlights from the BLS report include:

  • Paid sick leave was provided to 77% of private sector workers and 92% of state and local government employees.
  • Overall, 77% of employees receive paid vacation, with 79% of private sector workers and 61% of state and local government employees being eligible. After 20 years of service, state and local government workers on average received 22 days of paid vacation as compared to 17 days of paid vacation on average in the private sector with the same amount of tenure.
  • Paid holidays overall are given to 79% of employees consisting of 81% in the private sector and 68% in state and local government.
  • Overall, 72% of employees have access to retirement benefits, consisting of 68% in the private sector and 92% in state and local government.
  • Health care benefits are available to 73% of employees with access provided to 71% in the private sector and 89% in state and local government. Premiums for single coverage overall are paid 80% by the employer and 20% by the employee. Private sector workers pay more for health insurance (22% of the premium) as compared to state and local government employees (14% of the premium). For family health care benefits, employees pick up 33% of the premium (34% in the private sector and 29% in state/local government).
  • Dental care benefits are available to 40% in the private sector and 60% in state and local government.
  • In the private sector, paid family leave benefits were available to 23% of workers, with 11% of part-time and 27% of full-time employees being eligible. A slightly higher percentage of state and local government employees receive paid family leave.

Neil Reichenberg is the former executive director of the International Public Management Association for Human Resources. He is an attorney, a frequent writer and speaker on public policy and human resource issues, and an adjunct faculty member at George Mason University. For questions or additional information, contact Reichenberg at neilreichenberg@yahoo.com.