U.S. President Joe Biden responds to a question from a reporter after speaking about coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines and booster shots in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 24, 2021. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

Vaccine rule highlights workplace safety lawyers’ COVID-19 era rise

(Reuters) – The Biden administration’s not too long ago unveiled COVID-19 vaccine rule for firms is maintaining workplace safety attorneys’ telephones ringing, the most recent signal the pandemic has raised the profiles of those typically much less seen members of the employment bar.

Attorneys who assist firms take care of the Labor Division’s Occupational Safety and Well being Administration (OSHA), which is about to implement the rule, say that their workloads have spiked since OSHA launched the emergency short-term customary (ETS) on Nov. 4.

It is a part of broader progress in demand for authorized recommendation on federal and state workplace safety necessities and concerns because the pandemic raises questions on points resembling vaccines, masks and distant work.

“I think COVID-19 has catapulted occupational safety and health generally to the forefront of people’s attention, [with] clients and law firms,” stated Eric Hobbs, chair of the 58-lawyer workplace safety and well being apply group at Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart. Hobbs stated his agency’s apply has “been exceedingly busy over the past year and a half.”

Ogletree has employed a minimum of 4 attorneys for the apply in 2021, based on bulletins on its web site.

The brand new rule from OSHA requiring employers to develop insurance policies for employees to be vaccinated or examined weekly is presently paused by the fifth U.S. Circuit Court docket of Appeals however scheduled to enter impact in January. It should cowl an estimated 84 million U.S. employees, based on the Biden administration.

Workplace safety attorneys are collaborating with different apply teams to assist employers determine if and the way they should comply, and fielding inquiries concerning the many efforts to dam the rule in federal courts. They stated they’re additionally busy answering questions on an exemption for distant and out of doors employees and tips on how to measure the 100-employee threshold.

Earlier than COVID-19, legislation agency workplace safety attorneys spent a lot of their time investigating on-the-job accidents or catastrophes, advising on authorities inspections and citations, conducting safety audits at work websites and going to court docket.

However during the last 18 months their consideration has turned to face coverings, contact tracing, social distancing and pandemic associated sick go away and advantages questions, based on Alka Ramchandani-Raj, co-chair of the 41-lawyer workplace safety and well being apply group at Littler Mendelson.

On the pandemic’s outset, attorneys helped employers interpret shortly creating state and native pointers, till OSHA began popping out with steerage, she stated.

Ramchandani-Raj stated that earlier than the pandemic she was often called the lawyer on the agency who labored largely with industries usually perceived as extra harmful, resembling development, manufacturing or hospitals. However with workplace safety points now high of thoughts typically, she joked that she has “become one of the more famous people at the firm.”

Robert O’Hara, an employment lawyer at Epstein Becker Inexperienced, was not initially employed by the agency to deal with workplace well being and safety however stated he spent nearly 100% of his apply on these issues for the primary 12 months of the pandemic. He stated the agency has shaped an OSHA-specific group of 4 attorneys in response to COVID-19.

Workplace safety attorneys have additionally turn into key members of broader cross-practice coronavirus groups that many legislation companies shaped final 12 months to assist shoppers making an attempt to navigate an unprecedented disaster.

Demand from shoppers for general workplace recommendation continues to develop, based on the most recent Thomson Reuters Peer Monitor Index, which is a part of the identical father or mother firm as Reuters.

Although the index doesn’t escape knowledge particularly on workplace safety apply teams, the report stated general demand for labor and employment work grew 3.4% 12 months over 12 months within the third quarter of 2021.

Hobbs stated COVID-19 has taught companies, particularly these not targeted usually on labor and employment, that OSHA-related work “stands alone” and is “not a commodity practice.”

Learn Extra:

Biden units COVID-19 vaccine guidelines for companies

U.S. federal appeals court docket freezes Biden’s vaccine rule for firms

Republican governors lead assault on Biden vaccine mandate

Sara Merken

Sara Merken studies on privateness and knowledge safety, in addition to the enterprise of legislation, together with authorized innovation and key gamers within the authorized companies business. Attain her at [email protected]