The Biden administration sets a Jan. 4 vaccination deadline for private sector workers.
"The Biden administration said on Thursday that large companies have until Jan. 4 to ensure that their workforces are fully vaccinated under a sweeping new coronavirus health measure that will cover 84 million private sector workers, including an estimated 31 million workers who are currently unvaccinated.
The plan was first announced in September by President Biden, who directed the Labor Department to invoke its emergency powers over the safety of workplaces to require businesses with 100 or more employees to mandate vaccinations for most employees. Workers who refuse to get vaccinated must undergo weekly testing.
Also on Thursday, the administration unveiled new emergency regulations for health care workers, including those at nursing homes caring for elderly and sick residents who are at high risk for infection. All 17 million workers at health care facilities receiving either Medicare or Medicaid funding must be vaccinated by Jan. 4, and do not have the option to be tested instead.
But the new rule covering all large private businesses — about 116,000 employers, according to the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council — is a more dramatic use of his executive power, prompting some state officials to threaten to try to stop it.
“While I would have much preferred that requirements not become necessary, too many people remain unvaccinated for us to get out of this pandemic for good,” Mr. Biden said in a statement Thursday.
Some major companies including Tyson Foods and United Airlines were quick to embrace mandates, spurred by the president’s announcement in September. But many others have held off, citing the need for clarification from the government on a range of questions, including who will pay for testing and whether the rule applies to employees who work at home.
Many of those questions are answered by the requirements and guidance published by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Thursday. Some industry trade groups criticized the final rule. But many businesses that had been waiting for it to be made public are expected to begin announcing mandates, experts said.
Among the businesses that have yet to issue a requirement for all employees are the nation’s largest employer, Walmart, which is mandating vaccines mainly for its corporate staff members; and JPMorgan Chase, which has more than 120,000 employees in offices and bank branches across the United States and is encouraging but not broadly mandating vaccinations.
In a Mercer poll of 1,088 companies conducted on Oct. 4, roughly 13 percent of respondents said they were requiring all employees to be vaccinated, regardless of work location. Eleven percent said they were requiring only those coming to the office to be vaccinated.
“Workplace exposures have played a central role in driving the pandemic,” said David Michaels, a head of OSHA during the Obama administration. “The OSHA standard is an important step in making workplaces safe, stopping virus transmission, reviving the economy and returning the country back to normal.”
According to OSHA’s new requirements, workers are considered fully vaccinated if they’ve received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, or another vaccine approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization. Companies must provide paid time off for employees to be vaccinated and sick leave for side effects as needed. The rule does not apply to remote and outdoor workers.
Employers are not required to either pay for or provide tests, though some may still be compelled to do so by other laws or agreements with unions. Forcing unvaccinated employees to pay for tests, the rules text notes, “will provide a financial incentive for some employees to be fully vaccinated.”
Companies can verify workers’ vaccination status by requesting either a vaccination card or proof from a medical provider. Alternatively, employees can provide a signed and dated attestation of their vaccination status.
OSHA will allow exceptions for medical or religious reasons. It estimates that 1 percent of workers who remain hesitant about vaccination have a medical reason, and 4 percent have a religious reason.
Companies that fail to comply may be subject to fines, a White House official said. An OSHA penalty is typically $13,653 for every serious violation, but can be up to 10 times that amount if OSHA determines that the violation is willful or repeated.
Over the past month, the Department of Labor received feedback on the rule from trade groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as well as executives from UPS, the Walt Disney Company, Fidelity Investments and many others. They have voiced concerns about cost, logistics and potential effect on employees.
The January deadline allows retailers and logistics companies, both strapped for employees, to get through the holiday shopping season before instituting the requirements. The deadline applies to federal contractors, which are subject tostricter rules, and to health care workers.
Still, the National Retail Federation trade group blasted the requirements on Thursday.
“Since the president’s announcement of the vaccine mandate for private industry, the seven-day average number of cases in the United States has plummeted by more than half,” it said in a statement. “Nevertheless, the Biden administration has chosen to declare an ‘emergency’ and impose burdensome new requirements on retailers during the crucial holiday shopping season.”
Many nursing home businesses had pushed to avoid a strict requirement, and the American Health Care Association, a nursing-home trade group, expressed disappointment with the new rule. “We are concerned that the execution will exacerbate an already dire work force crisis in long-term care,” said Mark Parkinson, the group’s chief executive, in a statement.
The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which represents 100,000 workers, applauded the new rule. “Too many essential and frontline workers’ lives continue to be on the line in this pandemic, and having a standard to protect workers across the board is critical,” it said in a statement.
Companies that have already mandated vaccines, including 3M, Procter & Gamble, IBM and the airlines American, Alaska and JetBlue, have not seen large numbers of employees quit as a result, though a small minority of workers have.
United Airlines, one of the first major carriers to require shots for its 67,000 U.S. employees, said in September that more than 99 percent were vaccinated. Tyson Foods, which set a Nov. 1 deadline, said that more than 96 percent of workers were vaccinated, compared with less than 50 percent before it announced its mandate in August.
Employers covered by the rule must ensure their unvaccinated workers are masked starting Dec. 5, and maintain reporting and record-keeping as detailed in the OSHA rules. To help companies comply, OSHA will provide fact sheets, sample methods, a recorded webinar and other plans, a White House official said.
OSHA will allow public comments on the rule for the next six months; it is also seeking feedback on whether to extend it to companies with fewer than 100 workers, which have fewer resources to implement the standard.
Legal experts say OSHA has the authority to introduce a vaccine mandate, and that its standards pre-empt those of state governments, except in states that have their own OSHA-approved workplace agencies. (About half do.) These agencies, which OSHA monitors, must enact a rule that is at least as effective as the OSHA rule.
The administration drafted the OSHA guidelines with potential challenges in mind. Attorneys general in at least 24 states have threatened to sue. Montana has outlawed employer vaccine mandates, and Arkansas approved a lawemployers who mandate vaccines allow for exemptions. Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas issued an executive order banning private employers from making vaccine mandates.
So far, efforts to challenge vaccine mandates have fallen short. The Supreme Court last Friday refused to block Maine’s requirement that health care workers be vaccinated against the coronavirus notwithstanding their religious objections. A federal judge in Boston denied efforts to overturn a vaccination mandate for 1,600 state executive branch employees
Vaccination requirements are not new in the United States, but workplace requirements are less tested than those in schools and the military. And some companies might look to legal challenges as a way to delay a vaccine or testing requirement.
Some companies have already taken a stance on other required coronavirus precautions. In-N-Out, the popular burger chain in California, was forced to closeits only San Francisco outlet after failing to comply with the city’s requirement that all restaurants check the vaccine cards of indoor diners.
Reed Abelson, Emma Goldberg, Noam Scheiber and Zolan Kanno-Youngscontributed reporting."