FWPC Launches Fall Discussion Series with Examination of COVID Challenges for Employers

October 29, 2021

HR Policy staff, members, and representatives from our newly-formed HR Policy Legal Council discussed religious exemptions from vaccine mandates, reasonable accommodations, how employers are encouraging workers to get vaccinated, and other dilemmas employers are facing in a tight labor market in the Future Workplace Policy Council’s inaugural Fall Conference webinar.

Johnna Torsone, Pitney Bowes CHRO and FWPC Chair, kicked off the conference by noting the demanding situation in which employers find themselves, “where many of us with large workforces have a portion with vaccine reluctance.  This means we have to sort our way through the guidance for federal contractors, anticipate the requirements of the OSHA ETS, and decide whether to have a vaccine mandate, how to determine the logistics around testing, and many other questions.  The challenges around the labor market only make these issues more pressing.” 

The White House subsequently indicated that it could be flexible in enforcing the December 8 compliance deadline for federal contractor vaccine mandates, with coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients stating that “There is not a cliff here.”  The statements suggest that federal contractors may not be penalized for failing to get all covered employees vaccinated by the December 8 deadline, and may be given flexibility to ensure all covered employees are vaccinated as soon as possible.  

Todd Drass, Vice President of Human Resources at Lineage Logistics, joined Ms. Torsone and American Health Policy Institute President Mark Wilson in a discussion of the questions facing employers. These included balancing the need for a safe workplace with workforce needs in a tight labor market, incentives for vaccination, and encouraging workers to get vaccinated through engaging with community leaders. 

Representatives from Jones Day and Littler Mendelson, members of the HR Policy Legal Council, discussed religious and medical vaccination exemptions, reasonable accommodations, and the timing and expected content of the OSHA ETS, which will create vaccination and testing requirements for employers with 100 or more employees. 

Meanwhile, the Senate confirmed Doug Parker to head the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the first Senate-confirmed leader of the agency in 5 years.  Consistent with his previous role as head of Cal-OSHA, Mr. Parker’s confirmation likely foreshadows more aggressive enforcement overall, including by increasing the number of enforcement inspectors, acquiring more resources, and robust enforcement of the expected OSHA ETS. 

House panel on vaccine requirements:  The House Education and Labor Subcommittees on Workforce Protections and Civil Rights and Human Services held a joint hearing on vaccine requirements and employee accommodations.  Chair Alma Adams (D-NC) noted that “the most effective way to boost vaccination rates is through workplace vaccination requirements.”  HR Policy Association’s letter to the EEOC, seeking additional guidance on workplace accommodations, was included in the Congressional Record.  During the hearing Adams acknowledged that “some of the largest employers in the country, including Bank of America in my district, already have vaccination requirements. And more companies are stepping up to require vaccinations each week.”

Join us next week for a discussion featuring U.S. DOL Solicitor Seema Nanda in a session titled “A New Era in Labor Policy” exploring the Biden administration’s labor agenda.  You can find a full agenda and registration information for the Future Workplace Policy Council Fall Conference Discussion Series here.