As the COVID-19 vaccine becomes more widely available in the United States, there is rapidly changing guidance at the state and federal levels. Here are a few key issues Wisconsin employers should be aware of this spring related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Beginning April 5, 2021, all individuals in the state of Wisconsin who are 16 and older are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. As of the publication of this alert, Wisconsin had administered nearly 3 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccines, bringing the percentage of Wisconsin residents who have received the vaccine to approximately 31 percent.
As a reminder, while employers can institute mandatory vaccination programs, the best route for most employers that are not in high-risk industries like health care may be a voluntary vaccination program. A mandatory vaccination program in lower-risk settings will likely result in an increased obligation to provide accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VII as such employers have alternative accommodations that reduce the risk of an unvaccinated employee in the workplace.
However, even if an employer does not institute a mandatory vaccination program, it should still provide information and training on the benefits and safety of vaccinations from reputable sources such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) as recommended by OSHA’s January 29, 2020 guidance on protecting workers from COVID-19.
Extending Voluntary FFCRA Leave
The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) extended the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) tax credit through September 30, 2021. The extension of the credit means employers with fewer than 500 employees can choose to continue providing Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL) and Expanded FMLA (EFMLA) and receive tax credits for providing such leave.
The ARPA included three additional qualifying reasons for an employee to take leave offered under the FFCRA:
- Obtaining a COVID-19 vaccination;
- Recovering from an injury, disability, illness or condition related to a COVID-19 vaccination; or
- Seeking or awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test or diagnosis because either the employee has been exposed to COVID-19 or the employer requested the test or diagnosis.
Under the original FFCRA leave, employees could only take EFMLA leave to care for a child whose school or place of care is closed (or child care provider is unavailable) for reasons related to COVID-19. Under ARPA, EFMLA leave is expanded to include all reasons for leave previously reserved to EPSL leave.
Given the number of employees that may request time off to receive vaccinations in the coming months, it may be beneficial for qualifying employers to voluntarily offer EPSL so that it can reduce costs associated with vaccine and other COVID-related leave.
On April 2, 2021, the CDC issued new guidance that effectively lifts travel restrictions for fully vaccinated individuals within the United States. An individual is considered “fully vaccinated”:
- Two weeks after their second dose in a two-dose series, such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines; or
- Two weeks after a single-dose vaccine, such as Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine.
Under the new guidance, fully vaccinated travelers do not need to get tested before or after travel unless their destination requires it and fully vaccinated travelers do not need to self-quarantine. Fully vaccinated individuals should continue to practice precautions such as social distancing and mask wearing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Please visit Reinhart’s Coronavirus Resource Center for additional up-to-date information.