Unpacking Biden

Unpacking President Biden’s Executive Orders

by Amie Remington, Esq., on April 27, 2021
Since entering office in January, President Joe Biden has signed dozens of executive orders, presidential memoranda, proclamations and notices. It is important employers take the executive orders into consideration as penalties may occur if the organization is not in compliance with federal laws addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, immigration, discrimination, and more.

Most of President Biden’s executive orders have been aimed at combating the coronavirus, protecting workers during the pandemic and improving the economy. Whether they prevent discrimination, enforce worker health and safety requirements, provide guidance for minimizing the spread of COVID-19, raise the minimum wage, or speak to reopening schools, many of these executive orders have a direct effect on employers. Let’s take a deeper look.

Executive Order 13987
Purpose: Organizing and Mobilizing the United States Government to Provide a Unified and Effective Response to Combat COVID-19 and to Provide the United States Leadership on Global Health and Security.

This executive order was signed on Inauguration Day, January 20, 2021. It created a new position in the administration: the position of Coordinator of the COVID-19 Response and Counselor to the President to coordinate government-aligned efforts to reduce the disparity in the response, care and the treatment of COVID-19. This role is also responsible for coordinating the federal government’s efforts to produce, supply and distribute PPE, vaccines and tests. It also coordinates the federal government’s efforts to safely reopen schools and childcare providers.

This executive order relates to employment because the position of coordinator of COVID-19 response and the counselor to the president will have a direct impact on the rules that are created for businesses to follow in the wake of the pandemic. We will likely see increased and more specific guidance issued for businesses related to PPE, safety guidelines, and policies and procedures as they move toward opening more fully over the coming months.

Executive Order 13988  
Purpose: Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation

This executive order was also signed on Inauguration Day, January, 20, 2021. It prevents workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in a much clearer and direct way than Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which did not use the words “sexual orientation” or “gender identity”.

Businesses should be certain to update handbooks and policies/procedures related to discrimination and training with a focus on inclusivity.

Executive Order 13991
Purpose: Protecting the Federal Workforce and Requiring Mask Wearing

This executive order is consistent with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance regarding mask-wearing. It was passed on Inauguration Day. It requires masks and physical distancing in federal buildings and lands, requires masks and physical distancing by government contractors, and urges state and local governments to do the same. If your employees work in, or have regular dealings with a federal department, you’ll want to ensure your employees understand the masking rules set out by the order.

Executive Order 13999
Purpose: Protecting Worker Health and Safety

This executive order was signed on Inauguration Day and calls on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to release clear guidance on COVID-19, decide whether to establish emergency temporary standards, and directs OSHA to enforce worker health and safety requirements. This executive order confirms protecting the health and safety of workers in the United States is a national priority and provides OSHA to ensure the safety of all workers in the United States for the entire duration of the pandemic.

This is relevant to most employers as they are covered by OSHA and this may require the implementation of additional safety precautions.

Additionally, OSHA advises making COVID-19 vaccines available to employees and requiring all employees to follow preventive practices. Employers should ensure they are complying with federal rules regarding worker safety (for both OSHA and the CDC). Now is a great time for employers to examine their businesses and all safety measures to ensure they are compliant.

OSHA - New Guidance on How to Create a COVID program – Issued January 29, 2021.
  1. Assign a workplace coordinator responsible for COVID-19 issues,
  2. Identify where and how employees might be exposed at work;
  3. Identify a combination of measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 at work including separating and sending home potentially infected employees, implementing physical distancing and barriers, requiring face coverings, improving ventilation, and using applicable PPE, as well as good hygiene and cleaning/disinfection practices,
  4. Provide reasonable accommodations or modifications to workers at higher risk of severe illness,
  5. Effectively communicate with employees about COVID-19 in a language they understand and providing them with guidance on screening and testing,
  6. Educate and train employees on COVID-19 policies and procedures,
  7. Minimize the negative impact of quarantine and isolation on workers by allowing telework or work at alternative locations where possible,
  8. Record and report COVID-19 infections and deaths consistent with applicable OSHA requirements,
  9. Establish a process for employees to anonymously express concerns about COVID-19 hazards and ensure that they are not discriminated or retaliated against in any way, and
  10. Make COVID-19 vaccines available to employees and requiring all employees to follow preventive practices, regardless of whether they are vaccinated.
OSHA - Fines Increase - Effective January 15, 2021:
  • OSHA’s maximum penalties for serious and other-than-serious violations will increase from $13,494 per violation to $13,653 per violation.
  • The maximum penalty for willful or repeated violations will increase from $134,937 per violation to $136,532 per violation.
  • Posting violations increased from $13,494 per violation to $13,653 per violation.
  • Failure to abate violations increased from $13,494 per day to $13,653 per day.
Executive Order 14000
Purpose: Supporting the Reopening and Continuing Operation of Schools and Early Childhood Education Providers

This executive order was signed on January 21, 2021, and directs the Department of Education and HHS to provide guidance for safely reopening and operating schools, childcare providers, and institutions of higher education.

Many employees have been dealing with childcare issues during the pandemic and will have more flexibility with work schedules once schools and child care facilities are opened. Continue to work with employees to find alternatives that work for you and them until these facilities are fully open.

Executive Order 14003
Purpose: Protecting the Federal Workforce

This was signed on January 22, 2021 and restores collective bargaining power and worker protections for federal workers and federal government contractors, and lays the foundation for $15 minimum wage, which may have the potential to trickle down to private employers. Private employers should consider making financial plans in the event $15 becomes the required federal minimum wage.

The Biden Administration revoked the Trump Administration’s executive order regarding collective bargaining and restored power and worker protections for federal workers. Collective bargaining by employees of private sector employers is likely to be looked at more favorably by the current Secretary of Labor, Marty Walsh. Union-free workplaces may want to review the compensation and benefits provided to employees and the policies and procedures employees are working under to ensure they are being treated equitably.

Executive Order 14020
Purpose: Establishment of the Whitehouse Gender Policy Council

Signed on Inauguration Day, this executive order’s goal is to create gender equity and to advance equality as a matter of human rights, justice and fairness in the United States and around the world. This executive order is a strategic imperative aimed at reducing poverty and promoting economic growth in the United States with the goal to promote equal rights and equal opportunities based on gender in the workplace. This council is charged with creating policies that combat systemic bias and sexual harassment. The order’s goal is to increase economic security by addressing the structural barriers to women’s participation in the labor force and by decreasing the wage and wealth gap.

Employers should review their policies related to workplace harassment, prevention of discrimination, reporting mechanisms, training, etc. and ensure antiretaliation provisions are in place.

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Amie Remington, Esq.

As General Counsel of LandrumHR, Amie advises on all business and employment-related legal issues. She is also a regular speaker at national and state-wide events, discussing all aspects of employment law that affect all employers, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the National Labor Relations Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the state counterparts to these laws. Before joining LandrumHR, Amie was a partner in the law firm of Bozeman, Jenkins & Matthews, P.A., where she represented employers, management and the State of Florida in all types of employment-related matters. At the firm, Amie focused on policy creation, prevention of discrimination and harassment and management education and training, as well as all aspects of employment litigation, including trial and appeal work.

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