It’s been nearly two years since the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way people around the world work and live. In that time, HR leaders, HR managers, and department heads have been pushed, pulled, and forced to rapidly solve complex logistical challenges while ensuring compliance and employee safety.  

With so much uncertainty still present, Mployer Advisor’s recent webinar sought to ground employers, offering some perspective and best practices to embed flexibility into their enterprise.  

During the webinar, Mployer Advisor’s Content Marketing Lead, Abbey Dean, spoke with John Gerak, a Managing Director at Ogletree Deakins, about the latest guidance from Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and strategies to approach complex workforce issues. Additionally, the webinar also covered hot topics such as testing compensability; COVID-19 discrimination, harassment, and religious accommodation; and questions about undue hardship.  

Here are a few highlights from the event: 

1. Unprecedented Times 

While providing an overview and timeline of OSHA’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate–and the lightning speed at which litigation began and paused the ETS–Dean inquired if there was a precedent for how to manage so much change so quickly. 

Gerak replied: “No, these are and remain completely unprecedented times for employers. There has not been anything like this for a long period of time and certainly nothing in our generation. The speed at which employers had to implement this policy was astounding. Another complicating factor was (and remains) the 4% unemployment rate. With wage inflation and the demand for remote work in many environments, employers could not get employees or even applicants in the door. Stress levels were high, and this is one of the few employment and HR issues that went all the way from the boardroom down to the HR level. In my 20 years of practice, I have never experienced anything quite like this.”   

2. Is COVID-19 a Disability? 

One segment of the webinar focused on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), specifically whether COVID-19 could be automatically labeled a disability. The answer: no.  

Gerak discussed seeing a growing number of lawsuits and agency investigations around disability discrimination (a failure to accommodate) and violations of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, or GINA. The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified applicants or employees, unless doing so would cause undue hardship.  

For more details surrounding this topic, be sure to review the full webinar presentation here.  

3. The Latest CDC Guidance  

During the presentation, Gerak advised employers to follow the most up-to-date guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of course, this guidance is ever-changing, so adaptability among employers is key.  

What’s more, Gerak said that employers should follow CDC guidelines unless state law is more restrictive.  

Eager to learn more? Click here to watch the free, on-demand webinar, “COVID-19 Compliance in the Workplace: Strategies for Success in Uncertain Times.” Looking for more exclusive content? Check out the latest industry trends and news on the Mployer Advisor blog