Gov. Abbott Sets First Special Session for July 8; Democrats Say It’s Unnecessary, Pandering

Gov. Abbott Sets First Special Session for July 8; Democrats Say It’s Unnecessary, Pandering

Gov. Abbott has issued a call for the Legislature to convene a special session on July 8, 2021. The session will last no more than 30 days, but may end sooner if work is completed early. If the work done is not satisfactory to the governor, he has the authority to call as many consecutive special sessions as he desires. Democrats claim the session is unnecessary political pandering and will cost taxpayers. They say any essential topics could easily be included in the special session that will be necessary later in the year for the Legislature to complete the task of redistricting. 

Issues for the session have not been officially announced by the governor, but based on his public comments, the following items are possibilities:

  • A new version of SB 7, the voter access bill that died at the end of the regular session.
  • Bail reform, making it harder to bond out of jail without putting up cash (HB 20 in the regular session).
  • Additional restrictions on teaching critical race theory in public schools.
  • A bill preventing social media companies from blocking users based on their viewpoints.

It is not known if the governor will issue an open call or limit the topics that the Legislature may consider. Under an open call, legislators can take up bills that are designated topics for the session by the governor.

Gov. Abbott had previously announced plans to convene a special session this fall on redistricting and COVID-19 relief. However, he vetoed the portion of the state budget that funds the Legislature after Sept. 1. This includes funding for staff and support agencies such as the Legislative Budget Board and Legislative Reference Library. The veto was issued in response to Democrats walking out at the end of the regular session due to their objections to the voter access bill, asserting it was a solution looking for a problem.

For a fall special session to take place beyond Aug. 31, the Legislature must pass and the governor must support a supplemental appropriation bill refunding the Legislature. For that to occur, the governor will need to either open the call for the July session or specifically include legislative funding in his agenda.

EEOC Issues Updated COVID-19 Technical Assistance, Provides Additional Information on Vaccinations

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has released new guidance for fully vaccinated individuals related to the COVID-19 pandemic, addressing questions arising under the federal equal employment opportunity (EEO) laws. The EEOC also posted a new resource for job applicants and employees explaining how federal employment discrimination laws protect workers during the pandemic. These publications are provided to help employees and employers understand their rights and responsibilities at work during the pandemic.

The expanded technical assistance provides new information about how the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) apply when an employer offers incentives for employees to provide documentation or other confirmation of vaccination when an employee gets a vaccine in the community or from the employer or its agent. The technical assistance answers COVID-19 questions only from the perspective of the EEO laws. Other federal, state and local laws come into play regarding the COVID-19 pandemic for employers and employees.

The key updates to the technical assistance are summarized below:

  • Federal EEO laws do not prevent an employer from requiring all employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19, so long as employers comply with the reasonable accommodation provisions of the ADA and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other EEO considerations. Other laws, not in EEOC’s jurisdiction, may place additional restrictions on employers. From an EEO perspective, employers should keep in mind that because some individuals or demographic groups may face greater barriers to receiving a COVID-19 vaccination than others, some employees may be more likely to be negatively impacted by a vaccination requirement.
  • Federal EEO laws do not prevent or limit employers from offering incentives to employees to voluntarily provide documentation or other confirmation of vaccination obtained from a third party (not the employer) in the community, such as a pharmacy, personal health care provider, or public clinic. If employers choose to obtain vaccination information from their employees, employers must keep vaccination information confidential, pursuant to the ADA.
  • Employers that are administering vaccines to their employees may offer incentives for employees to be vaccinated, as long as the incentives are not coercive. Because vaccinations require employees to answer pre-vaccination disability-related screening questions, a very large incentive could make employees feel pressured to disclose protected medical information.
  • Employers may provide employees and their family members with information to educate them about COVID-19 vaccines and raise awareness about the benefits of vaccination. The technical assistance highlights federal government resources available to those seeking more information about how to get vaccinated.

Meanwhile, more than 150 workers at the Houston Methodist Hospital system who refused an employer mandate that they be vaccinated against COVID-19 have been fired or resigned after a court ruled the hospital could require its employees be vaccinated.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes of Houston on June 12 dismissed a suit by health system employees who alleged the vaccines are experimental and dangerous. He said employees who didn’t like the requirement could go work elsewhere.

The case is the first of what is expected to be more suits challenging employers’ rights to require vaccines for its workers.

The hospital system had required employees complete their immunization by June 7. Those who did not were suspended two weeks without pay. A spokesperson for the hospital system said 153 employees either resigned in the two-week suspension period or were terminated June 22.

Survey Gives Insight Into Employer and Employee Perspectives on Transitioning as COVID Slows

Most employers believe workers want more flexibility to work from home, but only 55% say they will offer that option, according to a recent survey.

Littler surveyed 1,160 in-house lawyers, C-suite executives and human resources professionals for the Littler Annual Employer Survey, 2021. Besides the remote work question, the survey also explores executives’ COVID-19 vaccination policies, key regulatory changes expected to impact the workplace in the next year, and more.

According to the survey, 4% of employers surveyed believe that most of their employees who can work remotely want to return to full-time in-person work. Seventy-one percent believe most would prefer a mix of remote and in-person work, however, 28% of those employers say they will have most employees return full-time and in person. Just 55% plan to offer a hybrid model.

The survey shows most employers are encouraging their employees to get vaccinated, with 84% providing information to employees about vaccinations. Nearly half (48%) offer paid time off to receive the vaccine and/or recover from its side effects — up from 33% two months earlier.

Employers are mixed when it comes to asking workers to voluntarily disclose if they’ve received a COVID-19 vaccine; 41% of respondents say they will ask employees to voluntarily disclose, 32% say they will not, and 27% are unsure.

Many employers said they are addressing crisis fatigue and employee burnout, with 84% offering mental health services and/or Employee Assistance Programs and 52% providing in-house well-being programs.

Nearly half of respondents (49%) are developing internal training programs for current employees; 24% are hiring more employees with strong technology skills; and 22% are conducting an analysis to identify needed skill sets to guide talent planning and job training.

You may view the full report by clicking here.

Research Assesses COVID’s Impact on Mental Health in the Workplace

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on Americans’ mental health, and that in turn has taken a toll on organizations as they cope with increased absenteeism, reduced productivity and increased health care costs, according to new research from the National Safety Council and NORC at the University of Chicago.

According to the research, more than 40% of Americans report increases in mental distress related to the pandemic. According to the safety organizations, before the pandemic organizations spent more than $15,000 on average annually on each employee experiencing mental distress. The research did not include organizations’ current cost, but suggested that cost is higher because of the pandemic-related increase in mental distress.

One risk factor for mental distress is experiencing stress, and 85% of workers report the workplace itself affects their mental health and well-being. Chronic exposure to stressful workplace conditions can lead to a variety of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, an inability to concentrate and emotional exhaustion. 

NSC and NORC at the University of Chicago created the “Mental Health Cost Calculator,” funded by Nationwide. This tool provides business leaders with data-driven insights about the costs of employee mental distress in their workplaces and identifies specific ways untreated distress impacts employers’ costs. These costs include an estimate of the dollars lost in days of work missed, excess turnover and replacement costs, and greater health care use by distressed workers and family members.

To access the calculator, click here. 

Majority Of Employers Recognize Employee Mental Health As A Significant Workplace Issue, Report Stigma Prevents Treatment

New research from The Hartford, a leading provider of workers’ compensation and disability insurance, found 70% of employers now recognize employee mental health is a significant workplace issue, and 72% said stigma associated with mental illness prevents U.S. workers from seeking help.

Also, 52% of employers said they are experiencing significant or severe workplace issues due to substance misuse or addiction among their employees, according to The Hartford’s 2021 Future of Benefits Study, which polled U.S. workers and human resource benefit decision-makers this spring.

While the national study showed employers have strived to support workforce well-being and foster a more compassionate workplace, employers and workers are divided in key areas about mental health in the workplace:

  • 80% of employers said their company culture has been more accepting of mental health challenges in the past year, but only 59% of workers agree;
  • 79% of employers said they have an open and inclusive environment that encourages a dialogue about mental health, compared to 52% of workers who agree;
  • 77% of employers said leadership at their company encourages conversations about mental health, compared to 56% of workers who agree; and
  • 78% of employers said workers have flexibility in their schedule to get the mental health help they need, but just 58% of employees agree about this flexibility.

The research also showed the economic impact of untreated conditions due to stigma. One-third of U.S. employers (31%) said the strain on employee mental health is having a severe or significant financial impact on their company, a 10-point increase from the March 2020 survey. The Hartford’s claims data demonstrates that untreated mental health and substance use disorders can prevent lead to unplanned absences and prolonged disability. Mental health conditions are among the top five reasons for U.S. workers to file a short-term disability claim, according to The Hartford’s disability claims data (excluding pregnancy). A person diagnosed with a primary injury or illness, along with the presence of mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression, takes two to three times longer to recover than someone with similar injuries or illness without those conditions.2

To help foster an open and inclusive work culture, The Hartford and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) recommend employers and workers:

  • Learn more about mental health conditions and substance use disorder. Nearly half of adults with a substance use disorder also have a mental illness;
  • Use respectful and first-person language to talk about mental illness and addiction, avoiding harmful words that perpetuate stigma; and
  • Offer support if you think someone is having trouble. The NAMI Helpline at 800-950-NAMI provides information regarding available resources. If someone is in a crisis, text “NAMI” to 741741 crisis support via text message available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Employers can also:

  • Provide mental health training to managers and senior leaders that includes information about mental illnesses, potential warning signs, and stigmatizing language guidelines;
  • Offer an Employee Assistance Program, as well as sleep management, mindfulness, or other programs that help improve mental and physical health; and
  • Communicate often, year-round about benefits and programs that support overall well-being. With additional communication, employees can more easily access the benefits and resources.

Study Shows Lower WC Claims in States That Allow Medical Marijuana

Workers with access to medical marijuana appear to be slightly less likely to file a workers’ compensation claim, according to research into the link between medical marijuana laws and workers’ compensation claims.

A study published in Health Economics shows about 7% fewer workers’ compensation claims are filed in states that allow medical marijuana. The study says claims also appear to be for shorter lengths of time on average.

The study was co-authored by Temple University Prof. Catherine Maclean and Keshar M. Ghimire of the University of Cincinnati Blue Ash College, Business and Economics Department. The authors looked at workers’ comp claims filed between 1993 and 2012, and conclude that medical marijuana can allow workers to better manage symptoms associated with workplace injuries and illnesses and, in turn, reduce the need for workers’ compensation.

Their study suggests legalizing medical marijuana might impact women more than men because women are more likely to suffer chronic pain or mental health issues, and medical marijuana is associated with treating symptoms of each. 

According to the Pew Research Center, 91% of Americans favor at least legal medical marijuana. Thirty-three states and Washington, D.C., now allow medical marijuana, which has been touted for pain management.

The study is available here.

Report: Positive Workplace Drug Tests Decrease Slightly

The percentage of positive workforce drug tests decreased only slightly in 2020 to 4.4%, compared to 4.5% in 2019, according to a new analysis by Quest Diagnostics, the world’s leading provider of diagnostic information services.

The reduction would have been greater were it not for a double-digit increase in year-over-year positivity in testing for marijuana use. According to Quest, marijuana positivity in the U.S. general workforce increased 16.1% in urine testing (3.6% in 2020 versus 3.1% in 2019).

Meanwhile, in a sign that marijuana use is becoming widespread, Amazon says it will no longer screen employees for marijuana in many circumstances.

In a statement, Amazon says it will no longer screen for marijuana in any position not regulated by the Department of Transportation. The company says it will treat marijuana use the same as alcohol use. Amazon says it will continue to monitor for on-the-job impairment and conduct post-incident drug and alcohol tests.

The Quest findings are based on results from more than 7 million drug samples taken in 2020. Quest says the marijuana positivity rate appears to be related to whether recreational marijuana use is legal in a particular state. It says it found lower positivity rates in states with only medical marijuana use or no form of legalized marijuana use versus states with legalized recreational usage.

Other results include:

  • Urine drug tests in the general workforce for cocaine declined 18.5% to 0.22% in 2020 from 0.27% in 2019.
  • Semi-synthetic opiates (hydrocodone/hydromorphone) declined to 0.33% in 2020 compared to 0.37% in 2019.
  • The oxycodone group of opiates (oxycodone/oxymorphone) declined to 0.29% in 2020 compared to 0.34% in 2019.
  • Benzodiazepines declined to 0.39% in 2020 from 0.43% in 2019.


Twin Cities Business
A Texas Meatpacking Worker Has Won a Covid-19 Workers’ Comp Claim. Is Minnesota Next?
In the early days of the pandemic, meatpacking plants were the site of some of the worst Covid-19 outbreaks in the nation. Minnesota’s meat processing industry was no exception. Yet when hundreds of Covid-related workers’ compensation claims poured in, none were paid out to Minnesota’s meatpacking workers. Click here for full article.

Texas Workforce Commission
TWC Ends COVID-19 Related Work Refusal Guidance
lowing the continued economic recovery in Texas and the announcement of Texas opting out of certain Federal Pandemic Unemployment benefits, the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) is ending job refusal guidance associated with the COVID-19 emergency orders. The guidance for individuals at high risk from COVID-19 were put in place a year ago. Click here for full article.

Washington Post
Explaining HIPAA: No, It Doesn’t Ban Questions About Your Vaccination S tatus
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to relax safety measures for people who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus and the country begins to reopen, many employers, businesses, families and friend groups are finding themselves in the at-times uncomfortable position of having to ask about others’ vaccination statuses. Click here for full article.

The New York Times
E.E.O.C. Says Companies Can Mandate Vaccines, but Few Push Ahead
Employers can require employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC said any vaccine requirement must still follow other Equal Employment Opportunity laws–such as following the Americans for Disabilities Act or providing exceptions for religious or medical reasons. Click here for full article.

Occupational Health & Safety
CEO of Pfizer Creates New Treatment Pill Projected to be Available by the End of 2021
An oral pill is expected to treat variants of COVID-19. The CEO of Pfizer announced that an antiviral treatment for the disease could be available to the public by the end of 2021. Click here for full article.

EHS Daily Advisor
NIOSH Issues Nonregulatory Mask Criteria
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) released new criteria for masks to help protect workers from the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19. The NIOSH criteria incorporate the nonregulatory American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) Specification for Barrier Face Coverings (F3502-21). Click here for full article.

Coronavirus: Washington State Announces ‘Joints for Jabs’ Program to Encourage Vaccinations
In an effort to get more of its population vaccinated against COVID-19, officials in Washington on Monday announced that they have approved a plan temporarily allowing cannabis stores to offer “Joints for Jabs,” according to state officials and KIRO-TV. Click here for full article.

Cambridge-based Moderna Working to have COVID-19 Vaccines for Children as Young as 5 by Early Fall
Moderna, which is based in Cambridge, says it will likely roll out a COVID-19 vaccine for children as young as 5 years old early this fall. Click here for full article.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
What Workers and Employers Can Do to Manage Workplace Fatigue during COVID-19
The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has touched all aspects of society including how we work. Emergency responders, health care workers, and others providing essential services to the community have been especially stretched thin, working longer hours than usual, working more shifts or even over-night, and leaving less time to sleep and recharge. Click here for full article.

Federal COVID Workplace Safety Rules Are Here. But Only For Health Care Workers
Fifteen months into the pandemic, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued a mandatory workplace safety rule aimed at protecting workers from COVID-19. But it only applies to health care settings, a setback for unions and worker safety advocates who had called for much broader requirements. Click here for full article.

Virginia Business
Lawmakers Pass COVID-19 Workers’ Comp Bills
The Virginia General Assembly passed multiple bills allowing health care workers and first responders to receive workers’ compensation benefits if they are disabled or die due to COVID-19. Click here for full article.

Analyzing COVID-19 claims under the Longshore & Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act
American employers have faced unprecedented adversity in keeping their businesses sustainable for the past year due to the world-wide novel coronavirus pandemic. Significantly, thousands of workers have lost time due to being infected themselves with the coronavirus. Click here for full article.

Business Insurance
Exclusive Remedy Defense Trending in COVID-19 Litigation
Employer defendants in more than half of the COVID-19 injury or wrongful death lawsuits being tracked by the National Council on Compensation Insurance argue that the workers compensation exclusive remedy provisions in state laws bar such litigation. Click here for full article.

Benefits Pro
Workers’ Comp in the Post-pandemic World: COVID-19 Risk Management isn’t Going Away
A year of business closures and working from home had at least one upside: according to the National Council on Compensation Insurance, employers’ premiums declined by 10% last year, due to a combination of decreased payrolls and fewer claims. Click here for full article.

Texas News

Insurance Journal
Uptick in Texas Workers’ Comp Claims Ends 20-Year Downward Trend
Despite the economic slowdown resulting from the COVID-19 business closures, the total number of workers’ compensation claims reported to the Texas Division of Workers’ Compensation rose in 2020 by 34% compared to the previous year. Click here for full article. 

Business Insurance
Texas Allowing Comment on Comp Law Changes
The Texas Division of Workers Compensation has announced a rulemaking period to make conforming amendments for the implementation of H.B. 1752. Click here for full article.

State News

Property Casualty 360
Workers’ Comp Systems that Saw Sizeable Medical Price Changes
States with no workers’ comp fee schedules for professional services saw higher prices paid, ranging from 44%-179% above the median, when compared with states that had a fee schedule during 2020, according to the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI). Click here for full article. 

Property Casualty 360
States with the Highest per Employee Workers’ Comp Costs
Overall, workers’ compensation premiums made up about 1.2% of the total cost of employing the average American, according to AdvisorSmith. The nationwide average cost per employee is $936 annually, or about $78 a month. Click here for full article.

The North Bay Business Journal
California Businesses May have to Pay more for Workers’ Compensation as Benchmark Rates are Under Review
While it has little to do yet with the coronavirus, workers’ compensation insurance rates may be going up. Over the next month, California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara will review rates recommended by the Workers Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau, a nonprofit which evaluates trends, including the costs of potential claims. Click here for full article.

Business Insurance
NY Legislature Passes Bill to Change Workers Comp Attorneys Fees
The New York Assembly on Thursday passed legislation that would tie attorneys fees to the weekly compensation awarded to workers or a percentage of the worker’s compensation. Click here for full article.

JD Supra
Are Off-site Injuries Covered by Workers’ Comp in Oklahoma? It Depends.
Over the years there has been a steady stream of cases involving employees who have filed workers’ compensation claims after being injured away from the employer’s premises. Sometimes it was difficult to determine whether the off-site injury was compensable. Changes to Oklahoma’s laws sought to clarify this question, and two recent cases provide employers with more answers. Click here for full article.

Marijuana Use and Workers’ Comp Cases
Marijuana will soon be legal in Virginia. You may be wondering if and how this may affect your workers’ comp case should you choose to partake. According to the Law Office of Darren Shoen, this is not an easy question to answer as there are many factors to consider. Click here for full article.

Industry News

New Mexico Tribune
Workers Compensation Insurance Market Expected to Reach Highest CAGR by 2025: AIG, Berkshire Hathaway, Liberty Mutual, Zurich Insurance, Travelers etc.
“The study on global Workers Compensation Insurance market represents a thoroughly analyzed forecast focused on the growth prospects and business expansion opportunities facilitating an overview of the future scenario of the global Workers Compensation Insurance market. Click here for full article. 

Total Employee Compensation Costs Average Almost $40 per Hour
Employer costs for employee compensation for civilian workers averaged $39.01 per hour worked in March 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Wages and salaries cost employers $26.84 while benefit costs were $12.18. Click here for full article.

Business Wire
The Hartford Study: Majority Of Employers Recognize Employee Mental Health As A Significant Workplace Issue, Report Stigma Prevents Treatment
New research from The Hartford, a leading provider of workers’ compensation and disability insurance, found 70% of employers now recognize employee mental health is a significant workplace issue, and 72% said stigma associated with mental illness prevents U.S. workers from seeking help. Click here for full article.

Insurance Business America
Fixing the Most Common Pain Point in Workers’ Comp Claims
Injured workers typically have little to no prior experience with workers’ compensation claims. When their employer files a claim on their behalf, many have concerns around how their medical care will be managed, who will pay for that care, and how any medical leave might impact their wages or employment status, among other things. Click here for full article.

Insurance Journal
Workers’ Compensation Profit Picture Looks Good in Short Term: Fitch
With favorable results driven by recent reductions in claims frequency and further recognition of material reserve redundancies, workers’ compensation underwriting performance is expected to remain strong in 2021, according to Fitch Ratings. Click here for full article.

Insurance Journal
Lessons from the Pandemic for Workers’ Compensation
The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us tough lessons. We have learned the strengths and limitations of globalization, our public health systems, and our ability to respond during a crisis. Click here for full article.

JD Supra
A Change of Season Often Brings Out Unique Workers’ Compensation Coverage Questions
As summertime approaches, employers are usually faced with unique questions from a workers’ compensation standpoint. Questions often arise in summer that are rarely posed during the winter months. Two of the most prominent questions are: What defines a worker as an independent contractor versus an employee, and are benefits provided if an employee is injured during an employer-sponsored recreational activity? Click here for full article.

JD Supra
A Look at Fifth Amendment Rights in a Workers’ Compensation Case
The Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination has become a staple of American culture as it has worked its way into movies and television. These representations are almost always in the context of a criminal case, which begs the question of what happens when a claimant “takes the fifth” in a civil case, particularly in a workers’ compensation case. Click here for full article.

McKnight’s Long-Term Care News
Addressing Social Determinants of Health to Attract and Retain Talent
The long-term care industry is facing an employment crisis, and providers must go beyond traditional compensation and benefit offerings to solve them. Click here for full article.

Court Upholds Workers’ Comp Judgment for Undocumented Worker
An undocumented worker can recover compensatory, emotional distress and punitive damages against his employer for firing him in retaliation for seeking workers’ compensation, but can recover only limited back pay, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled. Click here for full article.
Work Hours are Deadly?
Bad news for those of us putting in those long hours? The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) recently reported that “Long working hours (are) killing 745,000 people a year, study finds.” That is a fair number, but that conclusion must be tempered with the caveat that it is a worldwide figure. Click here for full article.

Staffing Industry Analysts
95% Of Employers Won’t Lower Pay For Workers Who Continue, Or Transition To, Remote Work
A survey by found that 95% of employers say they will not lower compensation for employees who continue to, or transition to, working remotely. There had been discussion in the media about some companies that were lowering pay for employees who choose to work remotely on a permanent basis. Click here for full article.