In two recent memoranda, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) made changes to previously issued survey guidance related to COVID-19 vaccination issues. Continue Reading CMS Reduces COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate Surveys and Rescinds Surveyor Vaccination Requirements
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Podcast: Owner’s Outlook: Vaccine Mandate for Construction Workers at Health Care Facilities – Diagnosing Health Care
In this episode of the Diagnosing Health Care Podcast: The Supreme Court recently upheld the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) vaccine mandate, which requires recipients of federal Medicare and Medicaid funding to ensure that employees, including third- party contractors, are vaccinated against COVID-19. The Court’s decision has clear implications for owners of health care facilities and their contractors with active construction work in 2022 and beyond.
Continue Reading <em>Podcast:</em> Owner’s Outlook: Vaccine Mandate for Construction Workers at Health Care Facilities – <em>Diagnosing Health Care</em>
CMS Reverses Position and Will Begin Enforcement of Health Care Staff Vaccine Requirement
Reversing its prior position, CMS announced on December 28, 2021, that it would begin enforcement of the COVID-19 vaccine requirement, established by the interim final rule, published November 05, 2021, in 25 states and the District of Columbia in a phased approach beginning January 27, 2022. With the announcement CMS issued guidance for surveyors regarding enforcement in S&C Memo QSO 22-07-ALL (“Memo”), describing how CMS will enforce the rule and how facilities that are non-compliant may avoid enforcement action if meeting certain threshold criteria during periods up to 90 days after issuance of the Memo as follows:
Continue Reading CMS Reverses Position and Will Begin Enforcement of Health Care Staff Vaccine Requirement
Rare Hearing by the Supreme Court as to Stays in Vaccine Mandate Cases
On the evening of Wednesday, December 22, 2021, the Supreme Court of the United States announced that it will hold a special session on January 7, 2022, to hear oral argument in cases concerning whether two Biden administration vaccine mandates should be stayed. One is an interim final rule promulgated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”); the other is an Emergency Temporary Standard (“ETS”) issued by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”). The CMS interim final rule, presently stayed in 24 states, would require COVID-19 vaccination for staff employed at Medicare and Medicaid certified providers and suppliers. The OSHA ETS, which requires businesses with 100 or more employees to ensure that workers are vaccinated against the coronavirus or otherwise to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing, was allowed to take effect when a divided panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, to which the consolidated challenges had been assigned by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation issued a ruling, on December 17, 2021, lifting a stay that had been previously entered by the Fifth Circuit. Multiple private sector litigants and states immediately challenged the decision.
Continue Reading Rare Hearing by the Supreme Court as to Stays in Vaccine Mandate Cases
Supreme Court Lets New York’s Vaccine Mandate for Health Care Workers Stand
On December 13, 2021, the Supreme Court of the United States rejected the petition of New York health care workers seeking to stop the State from enforcing regulations requiring covered personnel of hospitals, nursing homes, public health centers, and other health care entities to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of continued employment, subject to narrow exceptions. The Supreme Court’s unsigned order allows the continuing enforcement of the regulations, as litigation of the multiple lawsuits challenging the statewide vaccine mandate for health care workers issued last August continues.
Continue Reading Supreme Court Lets New York’s Vaccine Mandate for Health Care Workers Stand
Video: CMS Vaccine Rule for Health Care Workers – Employment Law This Week
As featured in #WorkforceWednesday: The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued an interim final rule outlining vaccine requirements for staff at Medicare- and Medicaid-certified providers and suppliers.
Attorney Frank Morris discusses the next steps for health care providers. In addition, covered employers should continue to monitor the recent litigation filed in the Eastern District of Missouri and the Western District of Louisiana seeking to permanently enjoin the CMS interim final rule.
See below for the video and podcast links. Visit https://www.ebglaw.com/insights/cms-vaccine-rule-for-health-care-workers/
Podcast: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, Stitcher.
California’s New COVID-19 Vaccine (Non)Mandate and Testing Requirements
Our colleagues Adam C. Abrahms and Juan Larios of Epstein Becker Green recently published an Act Now Advisory that will be of interest to our readers: “California’s New COVID-19 Vaccine (Non)Mandate and Testing Requirements.”
The following is an excerpt:
On July 26, 2021, the California Department of Public Health (“CDPH”) issued a State Public Health Officer Order (“Order”) seeking to address the increase California is experiencing in positive COVID-19 cases. With infections of the COVID-19 Delta variant rising, Governor Gavin Newsom and State Public Health Officer Tomás Aragón issued the Order as an effort to reduce COVID-19 infections in California. However, contrary to some press reports, the Order is not really a vaccine mandate in any way, shape, or form. As this Advisory describes in detail, in addition to a separate order for employees of the state, the Order applies to certain categories of health care and high-risk facilities, requires verification of workers’ vaccination status and compliance with masking guidelines, and imposes requirements for testing unvaccinated and incompletely vaccinated workers.
Podcast: Are Vaccine Passports the Key to Reopening? – Diagnosing Health Care
In this episode of the Diagnosing Health Care Podcast: The vaccine passport has been a major topic of discussion as businesses and governments consider how to balance privacy and safety through the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. Epstein Becker Green attorneys Patricia Wagner, Alaap Shah, and Jessika Tuazon discuss the privacy and security concerns companies must weigh as they consider developing or implementing vaccine passports, such as the collection and use of an individual’s personal health information. As state governments and the private sector take the lead on developing vaccine passport initiatives, it is imperative that businesses implement better privacy and security practices to mitigate or manage risk.
The Diagnosing Health Care podcast series examines the business opportunities and solutions that exist despite the high-stakes legal, policy, and regulatory issues that the health care industry faces. Subscribe on your favorite podcast platform.
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COVID-19 Vaccines and Workplace Challenges
Our colleague Nathaniel M. Glasser and Jennifer Barna of Epstein Becker Green have co-authored an article in Bloomberg Law that will be of interest to our readers: “COVID-19 Vaccines and Workplace Challenges.”
The following is an excerpt:
As COVID-19 vaccines become widely available, employers will face a critical set of challenges, ranging from whether they can—or will want to—mandate all or some employees get vaccinated, to what liability may attach to mandating vaccination, and even whether the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) could require a vaccine program.
While uncommon, mandatory vaccination policies are not new. For example, many health-care employers have implemented mandatory flu vaccination programs to protect staff and patients. The size and scope of the current pandemic, coupled with the desire to swiftly return employees to the physical workplace, however, means that more employers across various industries will likely consider mandating that their employees receive a COVID-19 vaccine once one becomes available.
Employers need to stay ahead of workplace COVID-19 vaccine issues with awareness and planning, so they can adapt their policies to meet the moment. Following are several of the most common questions employers should be prepared to answer in considering COVID-19 vaccination programs.
As More Health Care Employers Adopt Mandatory Vaccine Policies, DOJ and HHS Push Back on Behalf of Individual Workers
In the midst of one of the worst flu seasons to date, many hospitals and other health care organizations enforced mandatory flu vaccine policies for their employees to boost vaccination rates. However, recent litigation and governmental actions should serve as a reminder that health care entities should carefully consider safeguards whenever implementing mandatory vaccine policies and to not categorically deny all requests for religious exemptions based on anti-vaccination beliefs.
In January, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the formation of a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and released a proposed rule to provide protections for health care workers who refuse to participate in services that run counter to their religious beliefs or moral conviction. Recent legal challenges to mandatory vaccination policies in the health care context have also gained media attention.
Earlier this month, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) accused a county-owned skilled nursing facility (SNF) in Wisconsin of violating a certified nursing assistant’s religious rights when it required her to be vaccinated or be terminated if she refused. Although the certified nursing assistant believed that the Bible prohibited her from receiving the vaccine, the SNF refused to grant her an exemption from its vaccination policy because she was unable to produce a written statement from the clergy leader supporting her request, as the SNF’s exemption policy required. The DOJ complaint asserts that the SNF’s vaccination policy denies religious accommodations to employees who do not belong to churches with clergy leaders and that the SNF unlawfully denied the employee a reasonable accommodation for her religious beliefs when it refused her request for an exemption.
However, not all requests for accommodation must be honored. In Fallon v. Mercy Catholic Medical Center, an employee sued his hospital employer for wrongful termination alleging religious discrimination and a failure to accommodate in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when the hospital terminated him for refusing to get his annual flu shot. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the hospital and held that the employee’s “sincerely held beliefs” were not religious but based on health concerns, and therefore, the hospital did not violate Title VII.
In another recent development, a Massachusetts state Superior Court dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Massachusetts Nurses Association against Brigham and Women’s Hospital for lack of standing when the union challenged the hospital’s flu vaccination policy. The dismissal occurred a few months after the court denied the union’s request for an injunction. Thus, a plaintiff’s standing to challenge mandatory vaccination policies will be scrutinized.
Despite the actions of DOJ and HHS, health care employers are well within their rights to implement a mandatory flu vaccination policy, especially considering the potential implications to patient safety. Employers need to be prepared to handle requests for reasonable accommodations made by employees who have sincerely held religious beliefs against flu vaccination. When presented with such a request for accommodation, employers should engage in the interactive process with the employee as outlined in this recent blog post.
To lessen the risk of infringing on worker’s rights, many health care entities are employing non-mandatory tools and policies to boost employee vaccine participation through positive enforcement rather than with the threat of being fired. For example, health care entities can ensure that employees are educated and reminded about the benefits of being vaccinated, provide free and convenient access to vaccines, and issue small incentives and rewards to employees who are vaccinated.
Whenever implementing a mandatory vaccination policy, employers should be prepared for a challenge. Essentia Health required its employees to receive the flu vaccination and sustained a public legal challenge from three hospital unions. Essentia prevailed, discharging 50 workers who refused to be vaccinated.
Lastly, health care entities should review applicable state-worker vaccination laws to ensure they are in compliance with such laws when deciding upon vaccination policies.