Bill Banning Forced Arbitration Becomes Law

Congress avoided a partial government shutdown by passing legislation funding the federal government through September 30th. President Biden signed the government funding legislation as well as the bill banning forced arbitration in cases of sexual harassment and sexual assault. At federal agencies, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission updated its guidance for employers who have employees seeking an exemption from COVID-19 vaccine requirements based on religious grounds and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced a three-month inspection initiative directed at hospitals and skilled nursing facilities that treat or handle COVID-19 patients. A bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives to reduce the standard workweek to 32 hours per week.

Federal Government Avoids Shutdown – With the passage of a more than 2,700-page bill   (H.R. 2471) providing $1.5 trillion in spending, the federal government is funded through the September 30th, which is the end of the fiscal year. The passage by Congress of this legislation avoided the partial shutdown of the federal government that would have occurred with the expiration of the most recent continuing resolution as of midnight, March 11th.

President Signs Bill Banning Forced Arbitration – President Biden has signed legislation (H.R. 4445) that would ban the use of forced arbitration in cases of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Vice President Kamala Harris stated that forced arbitration by employers compelled people “to sign away one of their most fundamental rights: the right to seek justice in court.” The law amends the Federal Arbitration Act to invalidate arbitration agreements that preclude a party from filing a lawsuit in federal or state courts in sexual harassment or sexual assault cases. The law is effective immediately.

EEOC Updates Guidance on Title VII Religious Objections to COVID-19 Vaccine Requirements – On March 1st, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) updated its guidance concerning employees who due to their sincerely held religious beliefs seek an exemption from a requirement that they receive a COVID-19 vaccination. The EEOC recommends that employers “provide employees and applicants with information about whom to contact and the proper procedures for requesting a religious accommodation.” To assist employers, EEOC provided a copy of the form it uses for its own employees who are seeking a religious accommodation. 

The EEOC noted that under Title VII, both traditional and nontraditional religious beliefs are protected, and it recommends that employers assume that a religious accommodation request is based on sincerely held religious beliefs, practices, or observances. Employers can make a limited factual inquiry and seek additional information if they have an objective basis for questioning the nature or sincerity of the religious belief.   

Employers who want to claim that a requested accommodation would pose an undue hardship need, according to the EEOC, to consider the facts of each situation. Relevant considerations during the pandemic, cited by the EEOC, include, “whether the employee requesting a religious accommodation to a COVID-19 vaccination requirement works outdoors or indoors, works in a solitary or group work setting, or has close contact with other employees or members of the public (especially medically vulnerable individuals).” Where multiple accommodations could be approved, the employer may choose which accommodation to offer the employee.

OSHA Announces COVID Focused Healthcare Inspections – The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has released a memorandum to federal OSHA area offices announcing a focused, short-term three month (March 9 – June 9) inspection initiative directed at hospitals and skilled nursing facilities that treat or handle COVID-19 patients. OSHA wants to  mitigate the spread of COVID-19 as well as ensure the health and safety of healthcare workers who are at heightened risk for contracting the virus. OSHA hopes to “encourage employers in these industry sectors to take the necessary steps to protect their workers against the hazards of COVID-19.

OSHA directed its area offices to limit the inspections to the following assessments:

  • Determining if previously cited COVID-19 related violations have been corrected or as still being corrected.
  • Determining if employers have implemented a COVID-19 plan including preparedness, response, and control measures.
  • Verifying the existence and effectiveness of all control measures, including procedures for determining vaccination status.
  • Requesting and evaluating the COVID-19 log and the injury and illness logs.
  • Reviewing procedures for conducting hazard assessments and protocols for personal protective equipment use.
  • Conducting a limited records review of the respiratory protection program.
  • Performing a limited, focused walkaround of areas designated for COVID-19 patient treatment or handling that includes employee interviews to determine compliance.

Thirty-Two Hour Workweek Bill Introduced

Representative Mark Takano (D-CA) introduced a bill (H.R. 4728) that would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to change the standard workweek from 40 hours per week to 32 hours per week. The bill would be phased in, with the standard workweek being reduced to 38 hours per week in the first year, 36 hours per week in the second year, and 34 hours per week in the third year. If passed, the bill when fully implemented would require that overtime be paid to those employees covered by the FLSA after working 32 hours during a workweek. Representative Takano stated, “At a time when the nature of work is rapidly changing, it’s incumbent upon us to explore all possible means of ensuring our modern business model prioritizes productivity, fair pay, and an improved quality of life for workers.” Among the organizations endorsing the bill are the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union. The bill has been referred to the Committee on Education and Labor. 

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