Vaccine mandate for businesses published, setting Jan. 4 deadline
The Biden administration published its vaccination mandate for businesses on Thursday, setting a Jan. 4 deadline, in line with the date set for health care workers and employees of federal contractors.
The administration said it was on strong legal grounds with the rule, which an official noted is not technically a vaccine mandate, as businesses can also choose to make regular testing and mask-wearing an option.
The mandate, which applies to businesses with at least 100 employees and is expected to cover 84 million people, was developed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Senior administration officials said OSHA’s emergency temporary standard (ETS) to enact the mandate is “well within OSHA’s authority under the law and consistent with OSHA’s requirements to protect workers from health and safety hazards, including infectious diseases.”
Officials also said there is “well established legal precedent” for OSHA’s authority to develop safety and health standards and that OSHA has “broad authority” to issue and enforce health and safety standards.
When Biden announced the sweeping vaccine-or-test mandate in September, he faced immediate and fierce opposition from Republican governors.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who ordered that no business in Texas can impose a vaccine mandate on employees or customers, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who sought to ban vaccine mandates in his states, have vowed to fight the vaccine mandate in court.
OSHA plans to have programed or planned inspections, where agents go into workplaces to check that the workplace is in compliance with the rule. For what OSHA refers to as willful violations, a company can be fined $136,532.
The standard penalty is $13,653 for a single violation, and the number would increase if there are multiple violations in a workplace.
“Keep in mind that the OSHA rule coming out is not a mandate for a vaccine. Employers can put in a mandatory vaccination program, or there’s the other route of vaccination for those who choose to and testing and masks for those other employees that don’t,” an official said.
The ETS requires employers to develop, implement and enforce a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy unless they adopt a policy requiring employees to either get vaccinated or test once a week and wear a face covering at work.
It also requires employers to provide paid time off to workers to get vaccinated and paid leave to employees to recover from any side effects from the vaccine that keep employees from being able to work.
“OSHA estimates that this rule will save thousands of lives and prevent over 250,000 hospitalizations during the six months after implementation,” the official said.
OSHA will also help employers develop their vaccine-or-testing requirement by providing sample plans, fact sheets and answers to frequently asked questions, and will begin outreach to businesses.
The deadline for health care workers at facilities participating in Medicare and Medicaid to get fully vaccinated is also Jan. 4, and the administration pushed back the deadline for employees of federal contractors to be fully vaccinated to that date. Unlike for private businesses, there is no testing option for health care workers.
The Office of Management and Budget completed its regulatory review of the emergency temporary standard on Monday.
“Bottom line is vaccination requirements work. The actions we’re taking tomorrow will lead millions of Americans being vaccinated, protecting workers, saving lives, strengthening our economy, and helping to accelerate our path out of this pandemic,” the official said on Wednesday.