Companies brace for Biden vaccine mandate as Republicans threaten lawsuits

U.S. President Joe Biden responds to a query from a reporter after talking about coronavirus illness (COVID-19) vaccines and booster pictures within the State Eating Room on the White Home in Washington, September 24, 2021.

Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters

Led by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Republican-run states are already gearing as much as problem the legality of the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for personal firms earlier than the Labor Division has even printed the principles.

President Joe Biden final month directed the Occupational Security and Well being Administration, a tiny company that polices office security for Labor, to jot down guidelines requiring personal firms with 100 or extra workers to vaccinate their workers in opposition to Covid-19 or check those that aren’t a minimum of as soon as per week.

Greater than 130,000 companies throughout the U.S. are bracing for the brand new guidelines, which can apply to roughly two-thirds of the personal sector workforce. OSHA informed CNBC it delivered its proposal to the Workplace of Administration and Finances on Tuesday evening.

“Every single day, we see extra companies implementing vaccination necessities, and the mounting knowledge reveals that they work. Companies and organizations which are implementing necessities are seeing their vaccination charges rise by a mean of 20% or extra to effectively over 90%,” Biden mentioned in addressing the nation Thursday. “Let’s be clear, vaccination necessities shouldn’t be one other concern that divides us.”

The rule is predicted to take impact quickly after OMB completes its evaluation. As a result of it is being written underneath emergency procedures, OSHA can shortcut among the standard regulatory paperwork, like a public remark interval that will usually delay it by a number of months. OSHA will probably give firms time to adjust to the brand new mandate earlier than broad enforcement begins, in keeping with Debbie Berkowitz, who served as a chief of workers and senior coverage advisor at OSHA through the Obama administration.


The sweeping national mandate will almost certainly face more legal challenges. Nearly every GOP state attorney general in the U.S. signed a letter to the president last month vowing to use “every available legal option” to halt the mandate, calling it “counterproductive and harmful.”

“The one-size-fits-almost-all approach you have decreed makes clear that you intend to use the OSH act as a pretext to impose an unprecedented, controversial public health measure on a nationwide basis that only incidentally concerns the workplace,” the Republican attorneys general wrote.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday the state legislature should pass legislation preventing companies from firing people who do not wish to get vaccinated.

Legal standing

States, however, probably don’t have legal standing to challenge the rule, according to Georgetown University law professor David Vladeck.

“I don’t think it’s going to be easy for a state agency to say I represent the business community here,” Vladeck said. “The business community is perfectly able to represent itself.”

All signs point to a probable showdown in the courts between the administration and businesses. Trade groups have been lining up opposition to the mandate.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in a September letter to the secretary of labor, also raised a long list of questions from businesses, ranging from who will cover the cost of testing to how employers should deal with workers who refuse both vaccination and testing.

The National Retail Federation said Tuesday in a letter to Labor Secretary Marty Walsh that it worried the requirements could compound labor shortages as the busy holiday shopping season approaches. The organization suggested a 90-day implementation period to give businesses time to come into compliance.

The Retail Industry Leaders Association has called the standard “a colossal undertaking” and warned that “testing capacity must be scaled immensely” to meet the expected demand. The National Association of Manufacturers said its members should not be burdened by “undue compliance costs.”

The National Federation of Independent Business is flatly opposed to the rule, accusing the Biden administration of “commandeering” businesses to act as “instruments of coercion” against employees.

‘Grave danger’

Under the law, the labor secretary has the authority to issue what’s called an emergency temporary standard if he or she determines workers “face grave danger from exposure to substances or agents determined to be toxic or physically harmful or from new hazards.” The emergency standard is supposed to be replaced by a permanent rule after six months.

The Republican attorneys general argued in their September letter that employees in general are not in grave danger from Covid due to the level of vaccination in the public and natural immunity among those who have caught the virus and since recovered.

They also argued that OSHA can only regulate hazards specific to the workplace, not those generally present in the world at large. The National Retail Federation echoed that view in its letter.

“The agency cannot expect employers to control their employees’ behavior during their activities outside of work,” the federation’s top lobbyist David French wrote.

“Workers face the danger of COVID-19 wherever they go,” French said. “They are endangered by COVID-19, because they are human beings going about the world, not because they go to work.”

That is a point where Republicans and Democrats largely disagree. The virus has infected almost 45 million Americans, killing more than 721,000, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

“OSHA’s mandate is to protect workers from hazards and in this case an infected worker, an unvaccinated worker, is a potential hazard to other employees,” said Jordan Barab, deputy assistant secretary of OSHA during the Obama administration.

The rule will allow those who don’t want to get vaccinated to opt for weekly testing instead. More than 65% of the U.S. population has had at least one Covid shot, while 56% are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, many employers may decide that it’s more cost efficient to just require vaccines at the outset, according to David Michaels, the former head of OSHA under the Obama administration and an epidemiologist.

“Many of us hope most employers will do what United [Airlines] has done and say all workers must get vaccinated unless they have a medical condition or strongly held religious belief,” said Michaels, who is now a professor at George Washington University.

Legal uncertainty

Vladeck, however, said the vaccination or testing mandate is plainly within OSHA’s authority, supported by a century of case law that gives the government power to impose public health requirements.

“OSHA has very sweeping powers accorded by Congress and its goal is to protect the health and safety of every working man and woman in the U.S.,” he said.

The White House has dismissed opposition, arguing that Covid clearly presents a grave danger to workers and that federal law supersedes state law.

“The law basically requires the Department of Labor take action when it finds grave risk to workers,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in September. “And certainly a pandemic that killed more than 600,000 people qualifies as [a] ‘grave risk to workers.'” 

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