Surprise Court Ruling Puts Employer Vaccine Mandate Back in Place

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Surprise Court Ruling Puts Employer Vaccine Mandate Back in Place

Economy Health Care Costs News | December 19, 2021
By: Sam Larson

  • Appeals court reinstates Biden Administration vaccine-or-test mandate.
  • OSHA extends compliance deadline
  • Issue likely headed to US Supreme Court

The Biden Administration’s vaccine-or-test mandate for companies with 100 or more employees is back in place, though companies will have additional time to comply.

The 6th Circuit Federal Appeals Court in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Friday ended a previous injunction that had paused the national regulations set to cover about 80 million American workers. The appeals court ruled that the regulations are valid and no longer suspended.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced Saturday that it was pushing back the date by which businesses must comply with the mandate.

OSHA said in a statement that “to provide employers with sufficient time to come into compliance,” it would not be issuing any citations for businesses that were not in compliance with the emergency temporary standard before Jan. 10.

Noncompliance citations regarding testing requirements will also not be issued before Feb. 9 “so long as an employer is exercising reasonable, good faith efforts to come into compliance with the standard,” the department said. The original mandate required that workers who are not fully vaccinated must be regularly tested after Jan. 4. The announcement from OSHA pushes that deadline back by one month.

Workers must receive either two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to satisfy the requirement. Unvaccinated employees must submit a verified negative test to the company at least once a week and wear face masks on the job.

Companies do not have to provide or pay for tests under the regulations, but collective bargaining agreements or state laws may govern the arrangement. AIM encourages employers to visit the OSHA website for more details on implementation.

OSHA will require businesses to provide paid time off for employees to get vaccines and sick leave to recover from side effects that prevent them from working. Massachusetts employers are already obligated to provide paid time off for employees to get vaccinated under the Massachusetts Emergency COVID-19 Sick Leave law.

The 6th Circuit validated the regulations arguing that OSHA had successfully “demonstrated the pervasive danger that COVID-19 poses to workers—unvaccinated workers in particular—in their workplaces.” The court also court also dismissed the argument that OSHA exceeded its authority, writing that “OSHA has regulated workplace health and safety, including diseases, for decades.”

While there were previously dozens of lawsuits on this issue, the challenges to the OSHA regulations were consolidated in the 6th Circuit. This ruling is the definitive one and will be the decision that binds employers.

The ruling will likely be appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which will have final say on the OSHA regulations. In the interim, employers are obligated to comply with the regulations and AIM recommends taking steps to follow the rules as non-complaint companies face fines up to $14,000 per violation.