US mandates vaccines or tests for big companies

OSHA could issue penalties of $14,000 per violation for companies that fail to comply with a vaccine or testing mandate.

By

National News

November 4, 2021 - 9:04 AM

Photo by (Jacquelyn Martin/Pool/Getty Images/TNS)

Tens of millions of Americans who work at companies with 100 or more employees will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Jan. 4 or get tested for the virus weekly under government rules issued  today.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said companies that fail to comply could face penalties of nearly $14,000 per violation.

The new requirements, which were first previewed by President Joe Biden in September, will apply to about 84 million workers at medium and large businesses, although it is not clear how many of those employees are unvaccinated.

Tougher rules will apply to another 17 million people who work in nursing homes, hospitals and other facilities that receive money from Medicare and Medicaid. Those workers will not have an option for testing and will need to be vaccinated.

It was unclear how OSHA planned to enforce the rules. A senior administration official said the agency would target companies if it gets complaints.

Workers will be able to ask for exemptions on medical or religious grounds.

The release of the rules followed weeks of regulatory review and meetings with business groups, labor unions and others. The regulations form the cornerstone of Biden’s most aggressive effort yet to combat the spread of COVID-19, which has killed more than 740,000 people in the U.S.

OSHA drafted the rules under emergency authority meant to protect workers from an imminent health hazard. Senior administration officials said the rules preempt conflicting state laws or orders, including those that ban employers from requiring vaccinations, testing or the wearing of face masks.

The administration will face an immediate challenge from Republican state officials who are eager to fight Biden in court. More than two dozen Republicans serving as state attorneys general have indicated they plan to sue, arguing that only Congress can enact such sweeping requirements under emergency authority.

Last week, 19 states sued to stop Biden’s narrower mandate that employees of federal contractors be vaccinated. That requirement was scheduled to take effect Dec. 8, but the administration said Thursday it will be delayed until Jan. 4 to match the requirements on other large employers and health care providers.

Workers will need to receive either two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine by Jan. 4. Unvaccinated employees must submit a verified negative test to the company at least once a week and wear face masks on the job.

Employees who test positive must be removed from the workplace.

OSHA will require businesses to provide paid time off for employees to get vaccines and sick leave to recover from side effects that prevent them from working. The requirements for masks and paid time off for shots will take effect Dec. 5.

Because vaccines are free, OSHA said, companies do not have to provide or pay for tests.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued a rule requiring vaccination for workers in 76,000 health facilities and home health care providers that get funding from the government health programs. A senior administration official said that several large private health care organizations imposed their own mandates and achieved high vaccination rates — 96% or higher — without widespread resignations.

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