COVID-related labor laws have employers confused

As another COVID year comes to a close, there’s confusion among employers who are balancing vaccine requirements with labor shortages and trying to keep up with changes to national, state and local labor laws.

Some government mandates are facing challenges in court, but other COVID-related policies, like paid sick leave, will continue into 2022. Providing 80 hours of COVID sick pay to workers didn’t end when Gov. Jared Polis lifted the public health emergency order in July.

“A lot of people thought that as certain emergency orders end, that ends the 80-hour COVID leave. But what the legislature wrote in the paid sick laws was that if any form of disaster emergency related to COVID continues, the paid leave continues,” said Scott Moss, director of the Division of Labor Standards and Statistics in the state labor department.

Moderna Covid-19 vaccine vials are seen during a vaccination clinic for residents of zip code 80010 and existing refugee patients at Ardas Family Medicine in The Mango House in Aurora, Colorado on Thursday, March 4, 2021. (Eli Imadali, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Polis has continued to extend the state’s disaster emergency order. And the existing federal order runs through Jan. 15, unless extended again.

“The 80-hour COVID leave will end only when all disaster emergency orders, state or federal, end — and that hasn’t happened yet,” Moss said.

Some employers said that requiring workers to get vaccinated is challenging when it’s already difficult to hire enough workers

It’s only the beginning: Employment lawyer predicts more lawsuits likely

A Columbia employment law attorney said Americans should be prepared to start hearing more about fights brewing between states and the federal government over vaccine mandates.

“It’s the beginning,” Paul Porter of Cromer Babb Porter & Hicks said.

At this point, 19 states, including South Carolina, have filed four lawsuits against the federal government over a vaccine requirement for all federal contractors, part of a multi-faceted mandate announced by President Joe Biden in September.

South Carolina joined a challenge filed Friday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia in Augusta, along with Georgia, Alabama, Idaho, Kansas, Utah, and West Virginia. The same day, 10 other states — Missouri, Nebraska, Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming — filed a similar lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, as did Texas in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas in Galveston. The day before, Florida filed its own lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in Tampa.

The plaintiffs in South Carolina’s challenge claim this mandate is overreach from the federal government and violates various laws, including the Tenth Amendment, which gives states the powers that are not specifically given to the federal government. Those include police powers, which Porter described as the states’ authority to enforce orders for the health, safety, and welfare of their people.

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