Federal Appeals Court Reinstates OSHA COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate
The ongoing saga around a COVID-19 vaccine mandate that would impact more than 84 million workers in the United States took another turn, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit decided to reinstate the Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) initially announced by The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Under the reinstated ruling effective Jan. 10, 2022, businesses with 100 or more employees must develop, implement and enforce a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy, unless they adopt a policy requiring employees to choose to either be vaccinated or undergo regular COVID-19 testing and wear a face covering at work.
As noted by BSCAI, the most recent court decision overturns a previous decision to suspend enforcing the vaccine mandate upon ongoing legal battles, while still giving businesses a few weeks to adjust to the upcoming change.
OSHA's official announcement (via the New York Times) states: "To provide employers with sufficient time to come into compliance, OSHA will not issue citations for noncompliance with any requirements of the ETS before Jan. 10 and will not issue citations for noncompliance with the standard’s testing requirements before Feb. 9, so long as an employer is exercising reasonable, good faith efforts to come into compliance with the standard.”
The ETS also requires employers to do the following:
• Determine the vaccination status of each employee, obtain acceptable proof of vaccination status from vaccinated employees and maintain records and a roster of each employee's vaccination status.
• Require employees to provide prompt notice when they test positive for COVID-19 or receive a COVID-19 diagnosis. Employers must then remove the employee from the workplace, regardless of vaccination status; employers must not allow them to return to work until they meet required criteria.
• Ensure each worker who is not fully vaccinated is tested for COVID-19 at least weekly (if the worker is in the workplace at least once a week) or within 7 days before returning to work (if the worker is away from the workplace for a week or longer).
• Ensure that, in most circumstances, each employee who has not been fully vaccinated wears a face covering when indoors or when occupying a vehicle with another person for work purposes.
The emergency temporary standard does not require employers to pay for testing. Employers may be required to pay for testing to comply with other laws, regulations, collective bargaining agreements, or other collectively negotiated agreements. Employers are also not required to pay for face coverings.
The standard holds particularly high stakes for the frontline workers in the cleaning industry, as they are among the most vulnerable to contract COVID-19 especially in healthcare and hospitality sectors. Since 2020, the coronavirus has led to the deaths of 750,000 people in the U.S., and the infection of millions more, making it the deadliest pandemic in the nation's history. Many of the people killed and infected by this virus were workers whose primary exposures occurred at their jobs. OSHA estimates that this rule will save thousands of lives and prevent more than 250,000 hospitalizations due to workplace exposure to COVID-19 over the course of the ETS.
Read more on the implications of the ETS here.