Employment Law Updates

The new federal stimulus law known as the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 has now been passed by Congress, and President Biden is expected to sign it tomorrow, March 12. The Act contains several provisions relating to employment which are worth noting.

Most employers have policies in their employee handbooks prohibiting the use or possession of alcohol or illegal drugs in the workplace. These policies also typically permit drug testing of employees in certain circumstances, and provide for discipline if an employee tests positive for banned substances. In view of recent legislative developments in Virginia and nationally concerning marijuana, employers should revisit those handbook policies and determine whether any revision is appropriate.

Employers should note two recent developments concerning Covid-19 in the workplace. First, Virginia’s permanent COVID-19 workplace safety and health rules took effect on January 27 after Governor Northam approved the standards adopted by the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s Safety and Health Codes Board the previous week. The standards mandate appropriate personal protective equipment, sanitation, social distancing, infectious disease preparedness and response plans, record keeping, training, and hazard communications in workplaces across the Commonwealth. The new standards are similar to the previous Temporary Standards, with slight modifications. One notable difference is a new requirement to notify the Virginia Department of Health if 2 or more employees test positive within 14 days. The new standards are found at the link:

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has announced a final rule clarifying the standard for classifying a worker as an independent contractor rather than employee under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The effective date of the final rule is March 8, 2021.

Most employers have been aware of the paid leave requirements of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). The FFCRA has required employers with fewer than 500 employees to pay certain amounts of sick and family leave related to coronavirus. The requirements of that law, however, expire on December 31, 2020.

As an addendum to our earlier blog post about mandatory vaccination policies, we should note that the Pfizer vaccine has received only emergency use authorization (EUA) from the FDA, and it is anticipated that the Moderna vaccine will be in the same category. We have learned that the federal statute providing for the emergency use allows the FDA to establish conditions on administering the vaccine. One condition is to inform a person receiving the vaccine of “the option to accept or refuse administration of the product”.

We have received several inquiries from employers about whether they can require employees to receive the new Covid vaccines. The EEOC has issued new guidance on this subject. See section K of that link which deals with vaccinations.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in recent years has issued a series of decisions protecting employee statements that included profane, sexist or racist comments, if those statements were made while employees were participating in protected activity under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Among other things, the NLRA protects employees' rights to discuss the terms and conditions of their employment. For example, the NLRB ruled that racist remarks made while picketing and a profane social media tirade were protected. Disciplinary action for an employee’s exercise of protected activity is prohibited.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has revised and expanded its guidelines concerning what it means to have been in "close contact" with an infected person. Under prior guidance, the CDC defined a close contact as someone who spent at least 15 consecutive minutes within six feet of an infected person, thus putting the person at higher risk of contracting the virus. The CDC’s updated guidance defines a close contact as:

As we discussed in our previous blogs, the new workplace safety rules adopted by the Virginia Safety and Health Codes Board in response to the coronavirus pandemic are now in effect.  The final text of the regulations known as the Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) is posted on the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s website at:

In response to a federal court decision, the U.S. Department of Labor has revised its guidance concerning the paid leave requirements of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). The FFCRA requires employers with fewer than 500 employees to pay certain amounts of sick leave related to coronavirus, as summarized in the poster found at the DOL website link:


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