Biden to ask OSHA to mandate vaccines at businesses with 100 or more workers.
President Biden is expected to instruct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to draft a rule mandating that all businesses with 100 or more workers require their employees to either get vaccinated against the coronavirus or face mandatory weekly testing.
The efforts will mark the government’s biggest push yet to draw employers into efforts to vaccinate the country and would affect some 80 million workers.
OSHA will issue an emergency temporary standard to implement the requirement, according to officials familiar with a larger plan that the president is expected to outline on Thursday.
The Biden administration also intends to require vaccination for federal contractors as well as 17 million health care workers in hospitals and other institutions that receive Medicare and Medicaid funding, the officials said.
OSHA, which is part of the Department of Labor, oversees workplace safety, which it will likely contend extends to vaccine mandates. The agency has issued other guidelines for pandemic precautions, such as a rule in June requiring health care employers to provide protective equipment, provide adequate ventilation and ensure social distancing, among other measures.
“I think that the Department of Labor probably is in good stead to be able to justify its mandate for health and safety reasons for the workers,” said Steve Bell, a partner at law firm Dorsey & Whitney specializing in labor and employment.
“They’ve got a broad pretty solid basis for saying: ‘We’re here to protect the workers, and this is part of our purview, and we think that this is something that will protect employees,’” he said.
Still, OSHA’s authority does not mean it won’t face pushback or lawsuits challenging the order, particularly as some states move to curb vaccine mandates through executive orders or legislation. And enforcement may be a challenge, since there is no national system for employers to track or report vaccination status.
A number of large employers, ranging from CVS Health to Goldman Sachs to Chevron, have already put in place some form of vaccine mandate. Companies have been eager to get their workers back into the office and return to a degree of normalcy.
Still, many of these mandates are not comprehensive. Companies like Walmart and Citigroup have mandates for their corporate employees, but not for frontline workers in stores or at branches. Many companies are dealing with labor shortages and varying levels of vaccine hesitancy among workers.
Understand Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the U.S.
- Vaccine rules. On Aug. 23, the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and up, paving the way for an increase in mandates in both the public and private sectors. Private companies have been increasingly mandating vaccines for employees. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
- Mask rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July recommended that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places within areas experiencing outbreaks, a reversal of the guidance it offered in May. See where the C.D.C. guidance would apply, and where states have instituted their own mask policies. The battle over masks has become contentious in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
- College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.
- Schools. Both California and New York City have introduced vaccine mandates for education staff. A survey released in August found that many American parents of school-age children are opposed to mandated vaccines for students, but were more supportive of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff members who do not have their shots.
- Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get a Covid-19 vaccine, citing rising caseloads fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their work force.
- New York City. Proof of vaccination is required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations, although enforcement does not begin until Sept. 13. Teachers and other education workers in the city’s vast school system will need to have at least one vaccine dose by Sept. 27, without the option of weekly testing. City hospital workers must also get a vaccine or be subjected to weekly testing. Similar rules are in place for New York State employees.
- At the federal level. The Pentagon announced that it would seek to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops “no later” than the middle of September. President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees would have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.
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