Despite confusion, employment law attorneys recommend being proactive and transparent with employees in response to COVID-19 mandates, legal challenges to those mandates and virus variants.
Candace Johnson is an employment law attorney at Carmody MacDonald and said that she doesn’t tell her clients what business decisions to make — she simply informs them of potential consequences.
“My job is to determine risk level for each individual employer,” Johnson said.
Johnson advises human resources personnel and executives who are supervising staff rosters ranging from 15 to over 100 employees. She said that across every company size and industry, from home care to engineering firms, all employers need to be proactive in their HR practices.
Johnson recommends that her clients survey their employees to determine staff vaccination rates, and to also review how they organize and access employee personnel files to ensure that they are correctly handling confidential medical information if they want to record vaccination status of employees. If they’re not, Johnson said a company would need to update its HR practices before it collects that information.
Julianne Story is a partner in Husch Blackwell’s Kansas City office, and has been able to sit in on virtual company meetings across client industries and state borders to brainstorm possible solutions to each COVID-19 related challenge.
Story said this support from the firm has also enabled her to help her own clients realize that they’re not alone in what they’re experiencing.
“I can say, ‘Here’s what Denver is experiencing,’ or ‘You’re in healthcare, here is what manufacturing is experiencing,’” Story said.
Husch Blackwell, in addition to other firms, also shares what Story calls “collective knowledge” with clients via legal alerts and webinars. Story recalls Husch Blackwell attorney Sonni Nolan from the firm’s St. Louis office presenting a slide titled “Lessons learned,” which Nolan crossed out to say “Lessons learning” to show how fast rules and guidelines are changing.
Story said that challenges to mandates, which are happening at every level of government, are extending the timeline for when these constant changes might finally wind down.
“At a high level, our advice is to stay tuned,” Story said.
Johnson recommends that even employers who fall below the vaccine mandate bar of 100-or-above employees to consider employee safety — particularly as new variants like delta and omicron continue to emerge and mutate, and as guidance changes along with them.
“No matter what happens, there is likely going to be some type of mandate,” Johnson said.
And when working with clients who may be vulnerable to misinformation due to the politicization of COVID-19 mandates, Story said she meets these clients where they are and relies on referencing the current guidelines in a given moment. She stays informed herself by starting and ending her day with news from multiple sources in order to stay on top of weekly — or at times daily — changes.
Story said that what’s most surprising is the “continued newness” of updates on rules and guidelines.
“You would have thought that after almost two years, we would have more answers than we do,” Story said.
While federal guidelines and mandates are starting to standardize, as of Dec. 9, three of the four presidential mandates so far have been enjoined.