Articles Posted in Covid-19

The death by suicide of Cheslie Kryst was a big wake up call. Mental illness is prevalent amongst Americans now more than ever. According to data collected by Mental Health America, Texas is the second most prevalent state for mental illness.  As a Texas employee, you should be aware of the resources available to you. 

Historically, many cultures have viewed mental illness as a form of religious punishment or demonic possession. Negative attitudes toward mental illness persisted into the 18th century in the United States, leading to stigmatization of mental illness, and confinement of mentally ill individuals. As a society, we still have negative views of and oftentimes downplay the severity mental disabilities. In fact, I just watched an episode of the Bachelor where one contestant mocked another because she suffered from ADHD. I was disgusted by such a display of ignorance, but at the same time, was proud that mental health was being talked about on a such a widely televised platform. 

I say that to say that although there are individuals who still have negative attitudes toward mental illness, it is no longer a taboo topic that we must be hush hush about. In 2021, approximately 19% of adults experienced a mental illness, which is equivalent to 47 million Americans. In addition, 7.67% of adults reported substance abuse disorders in 2021. Approximately 10.7 million or 4.34% of adults experienced severe suicidal thoughts in 2021. These are just the statistics for adults. Children also experienced high rates of depression, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts.

Employment issues will again take center stage at the U.S. Supreme court on January 7, 2022, and appeals related to vaccine mandates are sure to be the main attraction. Alas, vaccine mandates will be squarely before the Court and audiences nationwide will soon receive some clarity from the nation’s highest Court regarding vaccine mandates in the workplace.   

Enforcement of the Biden Administration’s vaccine mandates applicable to government contractors, CMS and large employers had been stayed or partially stayed by various federal courts.  The OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) applicable to most employers having 100 or more employees was stayed by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals prohibiting enforcement of the rule.  However, on December 17, 2021, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which was chosen by lottery to hear the consolidated appeals challenging the ETS, dissolved the stay that the Fifth Circuit put in place. Thus, employers with 100 or more employees that are not specifically exempt from the standard due to disability or religious belief must now take steps to comply with the emergency rule. Judge Stranch delivered a gripping opinion addressing the question that has been vexing employers since the beginning of the pandemic:

Recognizing that the “old normal” is not going to return, employers and employees have sought new models for a workplace that will protect the safety and health of employees who earn their living there. In need of guidance on how to protect their employees from COVID-19 transmission while reopening business, employers turned to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA or the Agency), the federal agency tasked with assuring a safe and healthful workplace.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Love them or hate them, this is the time of the year during which employers are finalizing holiday party plans. After a long pause on holiday parties due to Covid-19, many employers are gearing up for their first holiday party since the pandemic.  Work holiday parties are a time for employees to get together, socialize, and celebrate a year well done. This is your opportunity to shake hands with the movers and shakers. However, holiday parties are notoriously known to pose serious risks for employees, especially if alcohol is served.

Let’s address the big Texas elephant in the room. Texas is an “at-will” state. That means your employer can fire you for no reason or any reason, short of unlawful discrimination or retaliation. In Texas, termination caused by your actions at a work holiday party is no exception to the “at-will” rule.

Following the holiday season, I typically notice an increase in consultations from employees who were terminated based on their behavior at a holiday party or who were either sexually harassed or discriminated against at a holiday party. A typical misconception is that your behavior and your employer’s behavior at a holiday party is not subject to workplace polices or procedures or employment laws. However, you are still subject to workplace policies and your employer is still subject to labor and employment laws, regardless of whether the party is held at work or off-site.

Employment Lawyer Deontae Wherry

Dallas Employment Lawyer Deontae Wherry

COVID-19 has dictated much of our daily activities over the last 20 months. It seems that COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon neither is the vaccine mandate. Yesterday, President Biden’s administration fulfilled its promise that it would take more aggressive steps in getting more Americans vaccinated. The administration announced additional vaccine mandates affecting more than 100 million workers. In this article, I will explain what this mandate means for employees.

Coverage

Rasha Zeyadeh writes about Biden’s vaccine mandate for large employers in NewsBreak:

“President Biden’s new sweeping vaccine mandate could impact more than 100 million Americans. Federal employees have 75 days to get the Covid-19 vaccine or face termination. Private employers with 100 or more employees must require employees to either get vaccine or to submit to weekly testing. Private employers who do not comply with the mandate could face hefty fines for each violation. Disability and Religious exemptions are the only way around Biden’s mandate.”

Ms. Zeyadeh represents employees in Dallas, Texas.

Section 9501 of the recently passed American Rescue Plan Act (“ARPA”) fully funds COBRA health insurance plan payments for qualifying individuals between the dates of April 1, 2021 and September 30, 2021. This benefit is funded by the employers who will then receive a tax credit to offset the cost of COBRA coverage. Notably, the benefit is not available to employees who voluntarily quit their job or who were terminated on the basis of “gross misconduct,” and the 18- and 36-month limit to coverage still apply. 

Before the world of COVID-19, nearly all employees who separated from their jobs had the option of electing to remain on their employee-sponsored health insurance by enrolling in a COBRA plan. I say “nearly all employee” because COBRA is only available to employee who worked for a company that employs 20 or more employees. However, Texas has passed its own version of COBRA known as “mini-COBRA,” which applies to businesses with fewer than 20 employees and only provides 9 months of coverage. 

Generally, employees are permitted to enroll in COBRA within 60 days from their employment separation. Once an employee enrolls in COBRA, the employee is usually permitted to remain on COBRA for 18 months, unless (1) the employee is only eligible for mini-COBRA, which would only permit the employee to remain on COBRA for 9 months or (2) the employee becomes eligible for Medicare while on COBRA, in which case the employee will transition from COBRA to Medicare while his or her family members are permitted to remain covered by COBRA for 36 months rather than just 18 months. 

On March 11, 2021, President Biden Signed the American Rescue Plan Act (“ARPA”) into law. The ARPA extends the unemployment benefits that were available under the March 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the “CARES Act”) and the December 2020 Consolidated Appropriations Act, (both of which were set to expire after March 14, 2021) through September 6, 2021. 

To reap the benefits of the ARPA, you must meet your state’s eligibility requirements. In the state of Texas, if COVID-19 is the only reason you cannot work, you are considered able to work according to the Texas Workforce Commission (“TWC”). Hence, in order to remain eligible for benefits, you must be able and available to work and search for work as instructed by the TWC. Unless you are exempt, the number of work search activities you must complete and report each week is determined by your county of residence. 

However, according to the TWC, each benefits case is evaluated on an individual basis. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the TWC has compiled a list of reasons benefits would be granted even if you refuse suitable work. Among those reasons are if you are 65 years or older, and/or have a medical condition, like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, or a weakened immune system, or at a higher risk for getting very sick from COVID-19, and/or if someone in your household is at high risk for contracting COVID-19. 

COVID-19, virtual learning, social distancing, unemployment, civil unrest, the election cycle, and the winter apocalypse. What a decade. Right now more than ever, we need to hold tight to the concept of empathy. As we react to our individual challenges, it is important that we acknowledge and understand the challenges faced by others. We do not have to agree with one another. We do not have to embrace the same feelings or share the same perspective. We simply need to be there for each other during a time that requires isolation and physical distancing. 

Within a matter of weeks, our world changed dramatically. Millions of children across the United States began their Spring Break with travel plans ahead, only for those plans to be cancelled and Spring Break to be extended well into the summer. Americans went into complete isolation. Nursing homes went on complete lockdown. Celebrations and vacations were cancelled. We have been urged to remain distant and isolated. We must wear a mask or be denied service. We are living in a unique time that presents unique challenges.  

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