Employer Alert New Executive Orders Require Action by Businesses 768x579 1

Many employers are awaiting the outcome of the newly proposed $1.9 Trillion Stimulus Package, but the flurry of Executive Orders signed by President Biden within his first weeks in office will require businesses’ attention now. 

Understanding these executive actions will be imperative for companies to remain compliant.

Here is a topline summary:

1) Strengthened Rules Surrounding Government Procurement:

This Executive Order (EO) is a bid to shore up domestic manufacturing and encourage the federal government to buy more products made in the United States. In other words, BUY AMERICAN.

This EO will impact employers in several ways:

  1. Changing the supply chain of raw materials for manufacturing companies will impact employers that depend on foreign suppliers to meet their manufacturing deadlines. These facilities are not set up to pick up the slack and will need to be retooled to accommodate the demand.
  2. For distribution companies, delays in distributing things such as medical supplies and safety equipment will be inevitable until domestic manufacturing is rolling on these products.
  3. There will be a lag in the ability to have a trained workforce capable of meeting immediate employment needs.
  4. Many clerical and customer service jobs being handled at a reduced cost in foreign countries will need to be brought back to the US and require extensive technical training.
  5. Impacted businesses, if eligible, will want to secure waivers to buy things that are no longer manufactured in the US. It is anticipated that industries which require foreign import of raw materials or seasonally-grown items that cannot logistically be moved to the States will have additional waiver options.

2) Stronger Health and Safety Guidelines for OSHA:

This EO directs OSHA to issue stronger safety guidance for workplaces within the next two weeks. Additionally, the agency will review its enforcement efforts and could create an emergency temporary standard that would mandate requirements such as mask-wearing, social distancing, hand-washing breaks, and communication with workers during outbreaks.

Prior to this executive action, states, local governments, and employers were left to determine what constituted as a safe work environment free of risks to workers’ health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, activities such as enforcement of workplace mask-wearing may be federally mandated.

3) Unemployment Benefits for Workers Refusing Work Because of the Pandemic

This EO clarifies that “workers have a federally guaranteed right to refuse employment that will jeopardize their health and if they do so, they will still qualify for unemployment insurance.”

The rules prior to COVID-19 were that workers could not refuse what is considered “suitable work,” whether that meant a new job offer or a call to return to a reopened workplace, and still receive unemployment insurance. In more traditional times, suitable work is thought of as a job that matches your skill set and pays a similar rate as your old one. This will undoubtedly bring into focus the importance of each employer’s efforts to provide a safe workplace that is compliant with current OSHA and CDC guidelines.

  1. Even with best efforts for a compliant workplace, the health and safety risks imposed by the coronavirus have blurred what “suitable work” looks like for each employee, especially for those who have underlying health conditions or are at higher risk of severe illness from the virus.
  2. The CARES Act also clarified additional reasons someone may need to refuse work and remain eligible for unemployment insurance, such as if they must stay home to provide childcare during school and care facility closures, or if they are advised by a health professional to self-isolate due to an underlying medical condition. These individuals may qualify for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance federal program, which currently phases out by mid-April.

Even under Executive Order, none of these shifts will happen overnight. At this time this legislation is merely the initial framework for achieving long-term goals. Undoubtedly more detailed guidance for implementation will come in the following months. But it is important for business owners be aware of these impending changes as they will have a major impact to many industries’ operations in 2021 and beyond.

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