- COVID-19 has increased demand for workplace safety and OSHA specialists over the past 18 months
- OSHA Vaccine Rule Has Raised New Customer Questions
(Reuters) – The Biden administration’s recently unveiled COVID-19 vaccine rule for businesses is keeping the phones of workplace security lawyers ringing, the latest sign that the pandemic has raised the profiles of these often less visible members of the job bar.
Lawyers helping companies deal with the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which must enforce the rule, say their workload has increased since OSHA released the Temporary Emergency Standard (ETS) on Nov. 4.
It’s part of a broader growth in demand for legal advice on federal and state security requirements and considerations, as the pandemic raises questions about things like vaccines, masks and remote working.
“I think COVID-19 has catapulted occupational safety and health in general to the forefront of people’s attention, [with] clients and law firms,” said Eric Hobbs, president of the 58-person occupational safety and health practice at Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart. Hobbs said his firm’s practice “has been extremely busy over the past year and a half. .”
Ogletree has hired at least four attorneys for the practice by 2021, according to announcements on its website.
OSHA’s new rule requiring employers to develop policies for employees who must be vaccinated or tested weekly is currently under suspension by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, but is expected to take effect in January. It will cover an estimated 84 million American workers, according to the Biden administration.
Workplace safety attorneys work with other practice groups to help employers figure out if and how they should comply, as well as ask questions about the many attempts to block the rule in federal courts. They also said they were in the process of answering questions about an exemption for telecommuters and field workers and how to measure the 100-employee threshold.
Before COVID-19, workplace safety law firm attorneys spent much of their time investigating accidents or disasters at work, advising on government inspections and citations, conducting workplace safety audits, and bring before the court.
But according to Alka Ramchandani-Raj, co-chair of the 41 occupational safety and health advocacy group at Kleine Mendelson.
At the start of the pandemic, lawyers helped employers interpret rapidly evolving national and local guidelines until OSHA began providing guidance, she said.
Ramchandani-Raj said she was known before the pandemic as the firm’s lawyer who largely worked with sectors generally considered more dangerous, such as construction, manufacturing or hospitals. But now that workplace safety issues are a top priority in general, she joked that she’s “become one of the more famous people at the company.”
Robert O’Hara, an employment lawyer with Epstein Becker Green, was not originally hired by the firm to handle workplace health and safety, but said he devoted nearly 100% of his practice to these cases during the first year of the pandemic. He said the firm has formed an OSHA-specific group of four attorneys in response to COVID-19.
Workplace safety lawyers have also become key members of wider cross-practice coronavirus teams many law firms formed last year to help clients navigate an unprecedented crisis.
According to the latest Thomson Reuters Peer Monitor Index, which is part of the same parent company as Reuters, customer demand for general workplace advice continues to grow.
While the index does not include specific data on workplace safety practice groups, the report said aggregate demand for labor and employment grew by 3.4% year over year in the third quarter of 2021.
Hobbs said COVID-19 has taught businesses, especially those not normally focused on labor and employment, that OSHA-related work “stands alone” and is “not a commercial practice.”
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