Business groups celebrated Thursday after the Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration's COVID-19 vaccine-or-test mandate for large employers.
Several trade associations sued to block the rule, which required businesses with 100 or more employees to mandate their workers get a COVID-19 vaccine or be tested weekly. Key components of the mandate went into effect on Monday, including a workplace mask requirement for unvaccinated workers.
David French, senior vice president of government relations at the National Retail Federation (NRF), called the ruling a “significant victory for employers.”
“NRF urges the Biden administration to discard this unlawful mandate and instead work with employers, employees and public health experts on practical ways to increase vaccination rates and mitigate the spread of the virus in 2022,” he said in a statement.
The high court voted 6-3 to block the vaccine-or-test mandate, with conservative justices arguing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) did not have the authority to issue the rule, which affects more than 80 million workers. The case will now be sent back to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Business groups that sued to block the rule expressed concern that unvaccinated workers would leave their jobs rather than comply with the mandate amid a tight labor market. They also warned that employers would struggle to find enough COVID-19 tests for their workers.
“This is an important recognition that the OSHA rule is too broad,” said Doug Kantor, general counsel at the National Association of Convenience Stores. “Businesses are doing their part to promote vaccination and safety practices. We appreciate the Supreme Court recognizing that OSHA should not push regulatory requirements that cannot be met and will exacerbate the labor shortage.”
The Biden administration had stressed that the rule would save the lives of more than 6,500 workers and prevent roughly 250,000 hospitalizations over the next six months.
“In blocking the vaccine-or-test rule for large employers, the court has placed millions of other essential workers further at risk, caving to corporations that are trying to rig the rules against workers permanently,” Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, said in a statement.
Labor lawyers generally favored the Biden administration’s arguments that it had the legal authority to enforce the regulations and that they were needed to slow the spread of COVID-19 in workplaces. But Thursday’s ruling indicates that the court’s conservative majority feels differently.
The Supreme Court ruling doesn’t block businesses from requiring their own workers to get the shot — large companies such as United Airlines and Tyson Foods have implemented far stricter rules — and challenges to private vaccine requirements have consistently failed in court.
“The decision point is now squarely left to board rooms and chief executives to decide the fate of their own organizational policy, and their role in impacting how the next phase of the pandemic unfolds for the nation and the economy,” Ian Carleton Schaefer, chairman of Loeb & Loeb’s New York employment and labor practice, said in an email.