US President Joe Biden presents an update on the Covid-19 vaccination and response program at the Roosevelt Hall at the White House in Washington, DC on October 14, 2021.
Nicholas Camm | AFP | Getty Images
On Thursday, the Biden administration ordered US companies to ensure that their employees are fully vaccinated by January 4 or are regularly tested for Covid-19, giving them a holiday respite ahead of the much-anticipated and hotly contested. mandate takes effect.
Workers must have received a second Pfizer or Moderna double dose or Johnson & Johnson single dose by this date as required.
On Thursday, the administration also pushed back a deadline for federal contractors to comply with a stricter set of vaccine requirements for staff from December 8 to January 4, in order to meet the deadline set for other private companies and healthcare providers.
V recently released rulesissued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration under the Department of Labor apply to businesses with 100 or more employees. All unvaccinated workers must start wearing masks indoors by December 5 and test negative for Covid weekly after the January deadline as required.
Companies are not required to pay for or provide tests unless otherwise required by state or local laws or employment contracts. Anyone who tests positive is prohibited from going to work. Employers are also not required to pay for face disguise.
The rules do not apply to people who go to a workplace where other people are not present, who work remotely from home, or who do their work exclusively on the street. Exceptions may be granted to workers with a sincere religious conviction, persons with disabilities, and persons with medical conditions that prevent them from being vaccinated.
Companies must also provide paid vaccination time and paid sick leave by December 5 so that they can recover from any side effects.
OSHA, which oversees workplace safety for the Department of Labor, will provide sample implementation plans and fact sheets, among other materials, to help companies adopt the new regulations.
OSHA will also conduct workplace inspections to ensure companies are complying with regulations, a senior administration official said. Fines for non-compliance can range from $ 13,653 for a serious violation to $ 136,532 if a company willfully violate the rules.
The vaccination mandate, which reaches 84 million people employed in the private sector, represents the widest use of federal powers to protect workers from Covid-19 since the virus was declared a pandemic in March 2020.
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal government’s health insurance plans for the elderly and the poor, also need 76,000 participating health facilities to ensure their workers are fully vaccinated by January 4, affecting about 17 million people. of staff, senior administration officials said. Institutions that violate this mandate may risk losing funding, they said.
The business community is divided
The Department of Labor has developed a business mandate under emergency management that shortens the process of issuing new workplace safety standards, which usually takes years. OSHA can use its powers in emergencies when the Secretary of Labor determines that workers are in serious danger from a new hazard, in this case Covid.
Business groups called on the administration Delay the mandate until the busy holiday season is over, fearing workers will choose to quit rather than follow the rules, further disrupting already strained supply chains and a tight labor market.
The US Chamber of Commerce, which has demanded a delay until the end of the holidays, praised OSHA on Thursday for “making significant changes” that “reflect the concerns of the business community.” The business roundtable supported the administration’s vaccination policy.
However, the National Retail Federation said the requirements “place new and onerous demands on retailers in a critical holiday shopping season.” The NRF, which requested a 90-day implementation period, said the mandate could disrupt the economy and “exacerbate preexisting labor shortages.”
The Retail Industry Leaders Association called the implementation period “insufficient” and stated that potential fines for non-compliance are “unnecessary and useless,” warning that turns the government against private employers instead of working with them to create a safe work environment… “
“While the powers for private employers technically start after the holidays, the planning time for developing and implementing the powers falls within the busiest period of the shopping season,” the association said in a statement Thursday.
The National Manufacturers Association is concerned about the potential “excessive cost burden” and the National Federation of Independent Business said it opposes the rule.
Legal issues are likely
Nearly every Republican state attorney general in the US has pledged to take judicial action to suspend the mandate, calling it “counterproductive and harmful” in a September letter to the White House.
Republicans and industry lobbyists have argued that the current threat from Covid is not a serious threat, as the Biden administration claims. They point to increasing levels of vaccination and natural immunity in the United States from previous infections, as well as mitigation measures already in place by many businesses in the workplace.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Covid has killed more than 745,000 people in the U.S. and infected more than 46 million. The virus infects an average of over 72,000 people every day.
“The virus, which has killed more than 745,000 Americans and more than 70,000 new cases per day, is now clearly a health hazard that poses a serious threat to workers,” Labor Department solicitor Sima Nanda said at a press briefing on Thursday.
Nanda said the mandate supersedes state-level regulations on vaccinations, Covid-19 testing, and masks unless those regulations are part of OSHA’s federally-approved plan. States like Texas have tried to ban vaccinations.
AFL-CIO, which represents the largest union group in the United States, had pushed for even broader protections in the mandate, such as ventilation standards, physical distancing where necessary, and paid leave for workers who have contracted Covid. OSHA does not currently require these additional mitigation measures from private businesses.
“OSHA has determined that it needs additional information before introducing these requirements for the full range of industries and employers covered by the standard.” The agency reported in an emergency safety standard detailing the requirements.
AFL-CIO, in a statement on Thursday, called for the implementation of broader Covid safety measures in the workplace. The Federation of Trade Unions also criticized the Biden administration for not forcing employers to cover testing costs.
“It is important to note that the cost of maintaining a safe workplace is the responsibility of the employer and should never be the responsibility of the employee,” the AFL-CIO said. “As this rule is implemented, we continue to urge administrations for employers to intensify and fulfill their responsibilities to ensure that workers are protected from COVID-19 infection in the workplace.”
The Biden administration can now face legal challenges in two ways: from those who want the mandate to be canceled and those who want to expand.
It is unclear whether the mandates will survive the legal problems. OSHA safety standards in court are mixed. Prior to the pandemic, the agency had not issued emergency relief standards since 1983. Courts have postponed or canceled four of 10 emergency safety standards issued by OSHA in its 50-year history. The fifth part was partially released.
A respite for federal contractors
Along with new rules for companies with 100 or more employees, the Biden administration said it would extend the deadline for a similar but stricter set of rules for federal contractors to January 4.
Federal contractor regulations do not include the regular ability to test employees for Covid.
Workers for those companies that include Boeing, American Airlines, IBM, and smaller contractors such as food service providers must ensure that workers are vaccinated or receive benefits for religious or medical reasons.
These rules met with resistance from some workers and some trade unions.
For example, the Southwest Airlines pilots union tried to block the mandate, arguing that it needed to be coordinated with the union. However, a federal judge in Texas rejected the request and dismissed the union’s lawsuit last week.
The union representing American Airlines pilots wrote in September to Biden administration officials offering alternatives to the mandate, such as regular testing and warning that a 60-day implementation period could cause labor shortages and disrupt vacation travel. Pilot unions of both American and Southwest have welcomed extended deadlines for federal contractors. These airlines have government contracts for the transport of military personnel, federal employees, and US mail.
Executives at American and Southwest both softened their tone over vaccination regulations last month by telling workers they need to get vaccinated or be exempted from continuing to work there, and urged employees to apply for an exemption. Both carriers, JetBlue and Alaska, said they would mandate vaccines as ordered.
American and Southwest told staff they would need to get a second shot of the two-dose vaccine by November 24, the day before Thanksgiving and one of the busiest travel days of the year. Executives said they did not expect the mandate to affect vacation travel.
The White House on Monday issued guidelines for federal contractors that give these employers broad freedom to comply with the rules. However, Biden administration officials said contractors are not facing tight deadlines but must demonstrate that they are making good-faith efforts to vaccinate staff and have plans for disguise and social distancing in the workplace.