New challenges loom for General Counsel and leaders of legal functions one year into the pandemic
NEW YORK (March 15, 2021) – Morrison & Foerster, a leading global law firm, today announced the results of its poll of legal leaders, who indicated uncertainties related to returning to the office and challenges to workplace policies.
One year after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, and with vaccines now becoming available to the public, more employers are discussing the possibility of a return to the office. However, even if assured of their office’s safety, 41 percent of leaders of legal functions polled by Morrison & Foerster said that they would not return and 11 percent were unsure. When asked when their company will return to the office, 48 percent said they did not know.
“These results indicate to me that returning to the office will not be as simple as turning the lights back on,” said Employment + Labor partner and lead of the firm’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Task Force Janie Schulman. “There is still widespread hesitation among the workforce. It’s going to take time, and for some businesses, a complete return won’t happen at all.”
The poll also highlights the complex issues related to workplace policies that employers need to navigate once the pandemic recedes, including whether to adopt permanent remote-work policies. Forty-eight percent of respondents said their company either had adopted such a policy or was looking to do so in the coming months.
Another crucial question is whether employers should require employees to be vaccinated before returning to the office. In the poll, 50 percent of respondents said their employer would not require vaccinations, while 10 percent would require them. Forty percent were unsure.
“The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has carved out an exception from its requirement of prescreening questions for vaccines being considered a “medical examination” which can only be asked if they are job-related. If vaccination is voluntary, and the decision to answer the prescreening questions is voluntary,” Ms. Schulman said. “This distinction is an example of how U.S.-based employers that mandate the vaccine may potentially expose themselves to allegations of Americans with Disabilities Act violations that non-mandating employers won’t face.” On the flip side, employers that do not mandate vaccines may potentially face claims that employers that mandate vaccines are less likely to face, such as claims by employees who assert they contracted COVID-19 at work from unvaccinated co-workers.
The vaccine question is one of many that employers will have to confront as they contemplate a return to the office. Each company will have to consider its unique circumstances and any local laws in deciding what is best for the company and its employees. Results from the Morrison & Foerster COVID-19 Policies Poll suggest that many employers are proceeding cautiously.
For more information on Morrison & Foerster’s COVID-19 resources visit www.mofo.com/covid.