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Week in Review: Oct. 10–15, 2021

Oct. 15, 2021
The latest on COVID-19 vaccine mandates and a case of a hostile work environment.

This week has felt both like a sprint and a crawl.

We’re looking at the end of the year and even 2022, but we’re still early in the fourth quarter. These next few months are always crucial for businesses.

Supply chain and logistics efforts are warning of new shortages, which will certainly cause headaches (if they haven’t already). Several companies have announced hiring initiatives and bonuses; shipping and retail stores are looking to beef up their workforce for the holidays. And there are still labor shortages and The Great Resignation.

In our war with COVID-19, we may be getting reinforcement in the form of Merck’s anti-COVID pill, booster shots and emergency use authorization for children ages 5-11.

But we’re also starting to head inside, gather with family and friends and return to the office—just in time for festivities, holidays and other religious observances. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working to update their guidance for gatherings soon

These coming weeks are going to be challenging in some shape or fashion. With that in mind, here are some recent headlines you may have missed that could impact you.

Get Vaccinated or Go Home

On Friday, Italy announced that the nation’s entire work force must now have government-issued health passes, known as a Green Pass.

Those without a Green Pass must take unpaid leave. In addition, noncompliant workers risk fines of up to 1,500 euros ($1,760 USD).

Both public and private employees must show proof of vaccination, a negative rapid swab test or recent recovery from COVID-19 before returning to work. Employers are, in most instances, responsible for verifying the certificates. The burden of cost of those rapid tests falls either on workers or their companies; the government will not pay.

“Making the swab free substantially means that those who got a vaccine made a mistake,” said Andrea Orlando, Italy’s labor minister, to reporters Tuesday.

The New York Times reports that elected officials believe the courts will not delay or reverse the law. But the law, one of the strongest in a democratically elected government, wasn’t met with unanimous applause. Port workers in Trieste, one of Italy’s largest shipping and transport hubs, protested Friday by the gate to prevent trucks and workers from getting to the port.

more than 80% of Italy’s population over age 12 is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Read more about this developing story here.

The New Wrinkle in Vaccine Mandates

Hours or days after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted Pfizer-BioNTech full approval for its COVID-19 vaccine, vaccine mandates reached a groundswell.

As those earliest of deadlines have started to pass, organizations are facing decisions about what to do with employees who haven’t yet gotten the jab. While organizations may take different approaches, some have started to terminate or place unvaccinated employees on unpaid leave.

So far, organizations that have terminated unvaccinated employees say that represents a small percentage of their workforce. That could soon change. In September, President Joe Biden announced in a televised address that he was charging the Department of Labor with drafting an Emergency Temporary Standard that would, among other provisions, require businesses with at least 100 employees to mandate vaccination or regular COVID-19 testing.

That is posing the next wrinkle for lawyers, state legislatures and the courts: unemployment benefits.

“If you don’t want to be vaccinated, don’t have a religious or disability exemption, and you lose your job, chances are you will be found ineligible for unemployment compensation,” Christopher Moran, partner and employment attorney at law firm Troutman Pepper Hamilton Sanders told CNBC.

CNBC reports that some state legislatures are changing their eligibility rules, though it likely wouldn’t tip the balance overwhelmingly in unvaccinated employees’ favor.

Read the full, nuanced story here.  

Tesla Must Pay Former Employee $130+ Million, Court Finds

The Court has ruled that Tesla Inc. must pay $137 million in damages to former employee Owen Diaz.

Diaz, who is Black, worked as an elevator operator at Tesla’s Fremont, Calif., factory from 2015 to 2016. During that time, he was regularly called racial epithets at work and saw racist images and language written in the bathroom and elsewhere, one of Diaz’ attorneys said.

An eight-person jury determined that Diaz was subjected to a racially hostile work environment, that Tesla failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the racial harassment, and that Tesla was negligent in its supervision or retention of an employee.

This is the second case of late where Tesla has been found liable with claims of race-based harassment or discrimination.

Read more here.

About the Author

Nicole Stempak

Nicole Stempak is managing editor of EHS Today and conference content manager of the Safety Leadership Conference.

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