Three days into his term, President Biden signed executive orders and set forth plans for how employers should respond to issues during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Here are five actions by President Biden this week that stand to have a major impact on employers across the U.S.:

1. Within two weeks of January 21, 2021, OSHA shall issue revised guidance to employers on workplace safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On January 21, 2021, President Biden signed the Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety.  The Executive Order directs OSHA to do the following:

  • OSHA must also consider whether any emergency temporary standards on COVID-19 are necessary, and if so, issue them by March 15, 2021. OSHA is to review standards regarding masks in the workplace.
  • Review OSHA enforcement efforts and review what changes can be made to better protect workers and ensure “equity in enforcement.”
  • Launch a national program focusing OSHA enforcement efforts for COVID-19 violations for the largest number of workers at serious risk.
  • Launch multilingual outreach campaign to inform workers of their rights under applicable law.

California employers are already dealing with the Cal/OSHA Emergency Temporary Standards which became effective on November 30, 2020, and I expect that OSHA may have similar provisions as contained in Cal/OSHA’s ETS.

2. Plan to establish a safe standards certification program.

The Biden administration also released a 200-page plan, National Strategy For The COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness.  One aspect of the plan worth noting is the development of a safe standards certification program for businesses, which would allow businesses to “self-certify” that they are following standards aligned with the OSHA guidance to be published soon as mentioned above.  Businesses would have a “placard to show their commitment to their communities” under the program.  The plan does not provide many details about this self-certification program and what it may mean for businesses.

3. Call for extended paid leave.

The Biden administration also proposes an “American Rescue Plan” which, among other items, calls for additional paid leave President Biden is calling for.  The plan calls for legislation to provide the following:

  • Extend the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and “emergency paid leave measures” until September 30, 2021.
  • Eliminate the exemptions under the FFCRA for employers with more than 500 employees and less than 50 employees.
  • Provide expanded paid sick and family and medical leave. The plan calls for 14 weeks of paid sick and family and medical leave to “help parents with additional caregiving responsibilities when a child or loved one’s school or care center is closed; for people who have or are caring for people with COVID-19 symptoms, or who are quarantining due to exposure; and for people needing to take time to get the vaccine.”
  • Extend emergency paid leave to include federal workers.
  • Provide a maximum paid leave benefit of $1,400 per week for eligible workers. Employers with less than 500 workers could be reimbursed for the costs of this leave.

4. Call to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

President Biden’s American Rescue Plan also calls for a federal $15 per hour minimum wage and an end to the tipped minimum wage and sub-minimum wage for people with disabilities.

5. Guidance and support for businesses to reopen.

President Biden’s National Strategy For The COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness also calls for help from the federal government to support small businesses with the costs PPE:

As the conditions of the pandemic continue to evolve and more Americans get vaccinated, the business community needs clear information from the federal government on what to expect and how to adapt their operations. Many businesses affected by the pandemic–particularly the smallest ones–need additional support to adjust their physical spaces and purchase PPE and supplies. The United States will immediately work to prioritize funds under the recent COVID relief package to the companies hardest hit by COVID-19 and in compliance with public health restrictions, ensuring that small businesses have the funds they need to operate safely.