Updated 12/28/21 at 9:00 a.m. Updates in bold
– On Thursday, January 13th, by a 6-3 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Biden’s administration’s rule requiring larger businesses (more than 100 employees) to ensure that workers receive the COVID vaccine or wear masks and get tested on a weekly basis. The ruling comes three days after OSHA began enforcing the new Emergency Temporary Standard.
The court issued a separate ruling upholding the vaccination requirement for healthcare workers at nursing homes, hospitals, and other facilities receiving federal money.
– The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has published a new emergency temporary standard (ETS) that requires private sector employers with 100 or more workers to ensure that employees are vaccinated against COVID-19. If employers do not want to dismiss employees who are not vaccinated, they have the option to allow those unvaccinated employees to submit a weekly negative COVID test and follow masking requirements when working indoors.
On Friday, December 17th, the U.S. Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit ruled that the ETS can be implemented. While the ruling is being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, OSHA will not issue any citations for noncompliance before January 10. From OSHA’s website:
“To account for any uncertainty created by the stay, OSHA is exercising enforcement discretion with respect to the compliance dates of the ETS. To provide employers with sufficient time to come into compliance, OSHA will not issue citations for noncompliance with any requirements of the ETS before January 10 and will not issue citations for noncompliance with the standard’s testing requirements before February 9, so long as an employer is exercising reasonable, good faith efforts to come into compliance with the standard. OSHA will work closely with the regulated community to provide compliance assistance.”
The executive order for contractors and subcontractors of the federal government remains on hold from a separate federal court ruling.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has developed a fact sheet for employers impacted by the ETS.
Employers must provide to employees in a language (and to a literacy level) that they can understand: (1) information about the requirement of the ETS and workplace policies and procedures established to implement the ETS; (2) the CDC document “Key Things to Know About COVID-19 Vaccines”; (3) information about protections against retaliation and discrimination; and (4) information about laws that provide for criminal penalties for knowingly supplying false statements or documentation.
The full ETS is available from the Federal Register.
OSHA has posted a FAQ webpage.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provides guidance regarding employees requesting an exception from vaccination requirements.
– The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shortened the recommended time for isolation from 10 days for people with COVID-19 to 5 days, if asymptomatic, followed by 5 days of wearing a mask when around others. The change is motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the 1-2 days prior to onset of symptoms and the 2-3 days after. Therefore, people who test positive should isolate for 5 days and, if asymptomatic at that time, they may leave isolation if they can continue to mask for 5 days to minimize the risk of infecting others.
Additionally, CDC is updating the recommended quarantine period for those exposed to COVID-19. For people who are unvaccinated or are more than six months out from their second mRNA dose (or more than 2 months after the J&J vaccine) and not yet boosted, CDC now recommends quarantine for 5 days followed by strict mask use for an additional 5 days. Alternatively, if a 5-day quarantine is not feasible, it is imperative that an exposed person wear a well-fitting mask at all times when around others for 10 days after exposure. Individuals who have received their booster shot do not need to quarantine following an exposure, but should wear a mask for 10 days after the exposure. For all those exposed, best practice would also include a test for SARS-CoV-2 at day 5 after exposure. If symptoms occur, individuals should immediately quarantine until a negative test confirms symptoms are not attributable to COVID-19.
Isolation relates to behavior after a confirmed infection. Isolation for 5 days followed by wearing a well-fitting mask will minimize the risk of spreading the virus to others. Quarantine refers to the time following exposure to the virus or close contact with someone known to have COVID-19. Both updates come as the Omicron variant continues to spread throughout the U.S. and reflects the current science on when and for how long a person is maximally infectious.
Click here for additional guidance.
Vaccination and Testing
The Columbia Montour Chamber of Commerce is partnering with Geisinger in encouraging eligible individuals to get vaccinated. Click here for information.
Click here to find vaccination sites statewide.
Resources to help employers communicate with their employees about vaccination are available from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, provides recommendations for developing a workplace vaccination strategy.
Geisinger offers both symptomatic testing and testing for travel. Visit here for details.
If you are exhibiting flu-like symptoms, contact your physician for a referral to a testing site.
– The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has announced significant enhancements to the COVID Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program, a federal disaster relief loan designed to support small business communities dealing with the pandemic, especially hard-hit sectors such as restaurants, gyms, and hotels. The SBA is ready to receive new applications immediately from small businesses looking to take advantage of these new policy changes.
Key changes include:
- Increasing the COVID EIDL Cap. The SBA has increased the COVID EIDL cap from $500,000 to $2 million. Loan funds can be used for any normal operating expenses and working capital, including payroll, purchasing equipment, and paying debt.
- Implementation of a Deferred Payment Period. The SBA will ensure small business owners will not have to begin COVID EIDL repayment until two years after loan origination so that they can get through the pandemic.
- Establishment of a 30-Day Exclusivity Window. To ensure Main Street businesses have additional time to access these funds, the SBA will implement a 30-day exclusivity window of approving and disbursing funds for loans of $500,000 or less. Approval and disbursement of loans over $500,000 will begin after the 30-day period.
- Expansion of Eligible Use of Funds. COVID EIDL funds will now be eligible to prepay commercial debt and make payments on federal business debt.
- Simplification of affiliation requirements. To ease the COVID EIDL application process for small businesses, the SBA has established more simplified affiliation requirements to model those of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.
Businesses can apply directly with the SBA for EIDL loans.
Businesses needing assistance in applying for an SBA loan can contact the Small Business Development Center network.
– The Employee Retention Credit is extended through December 31, 2021. The new credit, beginning January 1, is 70% on $10,000 in wages per quarter (or a maximum $28,000 per employee through December 31, 2021).
The new law expands eligibility to include employers who experienced a decline of more than 20% in a qualifying quarter.
Employers can also apply to the PPP program and take advantage of the tax credit program, provided the same wages are not used.
The IRS has issued updated guidance on utilizing ERC.
– The Chamber’s low-interest loan program is offering loans of up to $10,000 for members at 3% interest for 30 months, with interest only payments for the first 12 months. If you are interested in the Chamber’s loan program, contact Fred Gaffney at the Chamber of Commerce at 570-784-2522 as funds are limited.
– SEDA-Council of Governments (SEDA-COG) has created a loan program with funding from the U.S. Economic Development Administration. For-profit businesses can apply for loans of at least $10,000 with an interest rate of 3.25%. Funds can be used for working capital and can be disbursed based on past working capital expenses. No payments are due in the first six months.
There is a $500 underwriting fee and a $100 filing fee.
Unemployment, Benefits & HR Issues
The PA Department of Labor and Industry provides UC guidance for employers with impacted employees.