Healthcare business owners everywhere should be planning for the forthcoming COVID-19 vaccine and how they will navigate a sea of new challenges, from employer liability to mandatory policy development and implementation to managing accommodations. Join Florida Healthcare Law Firm attorneys Jeff Cohen, Karen Davila, and Dean Viskovich for this panel style presentation during which they will discuss the COVID-19 vaccination issues many organizations will need to strategically address in the weeks and months ahead.
Many young dental professionals are presented with the opportunity to join a practice after graduation. Making an informed decision and negotiating a fair contract can be difficult but will ultimately pay dividends for years to come. Here are some items to consider when reviewing and negotiating your employment contract.
DOES YOUR BUSINESS NEED A MANDATORY VACCINE POLICY?
Given the above, does a mandatory vaccine policy make sense for your organization? This may depend on several factors, including the following:
Are your employees in direct contact with clients/customers/patients?
Is that contact prolonged and in indoor spaces where air circulation may be limited?
If one or more of your employees become ill, does that jeopardize continuity of your business?
If you answer “YES” to one or more of these questions, you may want to consider implementing a mandatory flu vaccine.
In order to effectively implement a mandatory vaccination policy, you must develop both the policy and the process to manage exceptions (i.e. requests for accommodations). The process generally involves the submission of an employer-developed form along with any additional supporting documentation. The accommodations process should include review of information submitted by the employee in support of the accommodation, request for additional information as and when appropriate, an interactive process between the employer and employee in evaluating any potential accommodation, and ultimately a determination if the requested accommodation poses an undue burden that is more than de minimis on the employer.
Can an employer require employees to be vaccinated against influenza? And, a COVID-19 vaccine likely will be approved in the not-to-distant future. What about that vaccine when it becomes available? These are questions with which many organizations are grappling today. With the confluence of what is expected to be a very active influenza season and the ongoing and unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, employers are contemplating how best to protect their workforce and clients/customers/patients.
One of the most effective ways to achieve this is a mandatory vaccine policy, but is that right for your organization? Mandatory vaccination programs are not new. Depending on your business, a mandatory vaccine policy may be the industry norm. What factors should you consider? What processes would you need to develop to address exceptions?
CAN YOUR BUSINESS MANDATE VACCINATIONS?
In general the answer is yes. Although federal and state laws may vary, such programs are permissible provided any mandatory vaccination policy incorporates processes to address the required exceptions: medical accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); and religious accommodations under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII).
As employers begin to consider opening their offices and bringing back their employees and inviting other people into their offices, such as patients, there are many issues that should be considered and planned for BEFORE the front door is opened.
Quick Legal Advice – COVID-19 is new to everyone, including Government regulators and plaintiff lawyers, so we are all learning as we go along. The best legal advice in these uncertain times is:
Find out what other similar situated companies are doing, as you may be held to their standards;
Find checklists and advice from well reputable entities;
Document your decisions; and
OPENING YOUR DOOR TO YOUR EMPLOYEES
As an employer you have a responsibility to provide a safe working environment, and as of today it is clear that the following is a minimal list of considerations:
The Paycheck Protection Program under the CARES Act (the “Act”) allows a small business to apply for a low interest rate loan to sustain the business during the economic disruption caused by COVID-19. This program focuses on payroll costs as opposed to revenues of the small business. Allowable uses of the PPP loan funds include the following:
costs related to the continuation of group health care benefits during periods of paid sick, medical, or family leave, and insurance premiums;
employee salaries, commissions, or similar compensating;
payments of interest on any mortgage obligation (which shall not include any prepayment of or payment of principal on a mortgage obligation);
rent (including rent under a lease agreement);
interest on any other debt obligations that were incurred before the covered period.
The Act defines payroll costs as follows:
the sum of payments of any compensation with respect to employees that is a:
salary, wage, commission, or similar compensation;
payment of cash tip or equivalent;
payment for vacation, parental, family, medical, or sick leave;
allowance for dismissal or separation;
payment required for the provision of group health care benefits, including insurance benefits;
payment of any retirement benefit; or
payment of State or local tax assessed on the compensation or employees; and
the sum of payments of any compensation to or income of a sole proprietor or independent contractor that is a wage, commission, income, net earnings from self-employment, or similar compensation and that is in an amount that is not more than $100,000 in 1 year, as prorated for the covered period; and shall not include the compensation of an individual employee in excess of an annual salary of $100,000, as prorated for the covered period; taxes imposed or withheld under chapters 21, 22, or 24 of the Internal Revenue Code for the covered period; compensation for employees outside of the US; qualified sick leave wages for which credit is allowed under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act; or qualified family leave wages for which credit is allowed under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
COVID is proving to be so burdensome on employers that we are seeing lay-offs and furloughs all over the country. As the virus curve bends back in a positive direction and physician and patient concerns for safety wane, patients will stream back to office. But what happens to the laid off (or furloughed) employees and contractors with non-competes? Will they come back or will they have moved on, possibly in a way that violates their noncompetes? And will a court think a noncompete has been violated when an employee or contractor was let go and there is no specific provision in their written contract that allows the employer to immediately let someone go without notice due to this type of situation? How will the COVID based lay-offs and furlough affect noncompetes? The short answer is we don’t yet know, but widespread lay-offs and furloughs may result in a flood of cases being filed because (1) many have been let go, (2) there likely isn’t a provision in their contract with the employer that specifically authorizes that sort of termination, and (3) a contract’s “breach” (e.g. no contract based allowance for the prompt termination) is traditionally a defense to an action to enforce a noncompete.
The COVID Issue
Though there is an exception for unusual specialties or where there is essentially a community need, noncompetition covenants are generally enforceable in Florida with respect to doctors and other healthcare professionals. Many people think doctors in particular can’t be restricted from practicing medicine under any circumstances. That is just not true.
Getting to the bone of the issue, noncompetes are enforceable in Florida if:
Employers are approaching us in increasing numbers regarding their obligations toward employees battling substance abuse. Two federal laws primarily govern the space, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act. Note that state laws may be more restrictive, so we encourage our clients to reach out to local attorneys to determine if additional legal protections are available to employees in their state.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers businesses with 15 or more employees to protects workers from discrimination based on a qualifying disability or a perceived disability, which is defined to include alcoholism and illegal drug use. However, to be eligible, the ADA protects only workers who either (i) have successfully been rehabilitated and are no longer using illegal drugs or misusing alcohol; or (ii) are currently participating in a rehabilitation program and are no longer using illegal drugs or misusing alcohol. Importantly, the ADA does not protect any employee who is presently battling alcoholism and illegal drug use and is not participating in a treatment program. An employee in the throes of substance abuse who is not actively seeking treatment is not protected by the ADA.
Health law is the federal, state, and local law, rules, regulations and other jurisprudence among providers, payers and vendors to the healthcare industry and its patient and delivery of health care services; all with an emphasis on operations, regulatory and transactional legal issues.