President Joe Biden has significantly extended COVID-19 vaccine requirements into the American workplace, saying large employers must have their workers vaccinated or tested weekly.
The new vaccine requirement for companies with 100 or more employees is part of a six-part plan to curb the fourth wave of the coronavirus that Biden unveiled in a speech on Thursday.
“We’re going to protect vaccinated workers from unvaccinated co-workers,” he said. “We’re going to reduce the spread of COVID-19 by increasing the share of the workforce that is vaccinated in businesses all across America.”
Some 80 million workers — roughly half the U.S. workforce — will be affected by an “emergency temporary standard” that will be enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, with substantial fines of nearly $14,000 per violation.
The proposed rules are “the government’s biggest push yet to draw employers into a campaign to vaccinate the country,” according to The New York Times.
“This is a game-changer,” Devjani Mishra, an employment lawyer at Littler Mendelson, told the Financial Times. “Many clients . . . have been reluctant to impose mandates because they didn’t want to lose their workforce. But if it is not up to the individual employer . . . that takes the pressure off.”
Biden noted that some of the biggest companies including United Airlines, Disney, Tyson Foods, and “even Fox News” already require employees to be vaccinated. Employers and unions welcomed his move.
“Stricter” vaccine mandates are “the only way we see a full recovery possible,” the Culinary Workers Union said.
Republican governors are expected to bring legal challenges but the Biden administration is likely to argue that OSHA’s authority over workplace safety extends to vaccine mandates. The agency has issued other guidelines for pandemic precautions, such as requiring health care employers to provide protective equipment and ensure social distancing.
“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,’” said Steve Bell, a partner at the law firm Dorsey & Whitney.