Monday, December 6, 2021

EXPLANATOR: What does vaccination mean for businesses and workers?

The Biden administration’s ambitious new COVID-19 mandate will extend to 84 million employees in mid-sized and large companies.

President Joe Biden called Thursday’s regulations urgently needed to vaccinate more Americans. While confirmed viral cases and deaths have dropped sharply since the beginning of the year, they remain dangerously high, especially in some areas and industries. The average number of cases has leveled off with about 70,000 new infections per day and more than 1,200 virus deaths per day have been confirmed.

“Too many people,” Biden said, “remain unvaccinated for us to get out of this pandemic for good.”

However, several states with Republican governors have vowed to challenge the Occupational Safety and Health Administration rulings in court, calling them an unconstitutional federal government takeover.

Here’s a more in-depth look at the new COVID regulations and their implications for companies and their employees:



Private sector companies with 100 or more employees must require their employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or weekly virus testing and wearing masks at work. These requirements will take effect on January 4, in accordance with the interim emergency standard set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

A separate rule requires health care providers who receive federal Medicare and Medicaid payments to be vaccinated. This Medicare & Medicaid Service Center rule will apply to 17 million workers in 76,000 healthcare facilities, including hospitals and long-term care facilities. But doctors’ offices with fewer than 100 employees will be exempt from taxes because they are not subject to OSHA regulations.

Employers must provide paid time for workers to vaccinate and recover from side effects. Vaccinations will be paid for by the federal government, although workers may have to pay for testing. The federal government says the rules are replacing state laws that are contrary to standards. However, some states have threatened to sue.



About 70% of the US adult population is fully vaccinated. However, this vaccination rate was not enough to stop the spread of the virus, especially the highly contagious and now dominant delta variant.

Biden noted that companies that have already imposed mandates on their employees, along with requirements for military and federal contractors, have reduced the number of unvaccinated Americans over the age of 12 from 100 million at the end of July to about 60 million.

Despite this, more than 750,000 Americans have died from the virus, and tens of thousands of new cases occur every day. OSHA estimates that the new requirements will save 6,500 lives and prevent 250,000 hospitalizations within six months of the rules go into effect.

“Workplace exposure has played a central role in the spread of the pandemic,” said David Michaels, a former OSHA chief and professor of public health at George Washington University. “The workers found at work bring the virus home. They infect their children, they infect their parents, they infect their community. “

Michaels called the rules an important step towards stopping transmission of the virus and gradually suppressing COVID.



OSHA says it will enforce the new regulations in the same way as other workplace safety regulations, relying primarily on whistleblower complaints and some limited spot checks. But OSHA and its government partners who enforce its regulations only have 1,850 inspectors at 8 million jobs nationwide.

The agency said it will work with companies to vaccinate employees, but will fine them up to $ 13,653 for each violation. Companies must collect evidence of employee vaccinations and keep records. And employers must prove that unvaccinated employees have passed FDA-approved tests and that the tests are being conducted properly, ”said Allison Kahn, an employment attorney at Carlton Fields in Tampa, Florida.

“You can’t just take a test at home and tell your employer that you are negative,” Kahn said. “It needs to be controlled somehow.”

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The rules do not apply to employees who work alone, at home or on the street. In addition, workers can apply for relief from work for religious or medical reasons. Nicholas Huls, an employment lawyer at Fisher & Phillips LLC, noted that companies that have issued their own vaccine prescriptions are already inundated with requests for exemptions from vaccine requirements.

Usually, Huls said, requests for exemption from religious beliefs are simple: someone, say, asks for days off to attend church or observe a day of rest. Now, he said, it will be “hard to tell if they are sincere in their (anti-vaccine) beliefs, or are they just trying to use religion to get shelter?”

The Biden administration’s plan is likely to trigger more such exception requests.



It’s Complicated. In the 28 US states and territories that enforce OSHA rules, the new rule will apply to both public and private employers.

These states and territories:

Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, US Virgin Islands, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming.

In the rest of the states and territories, the new powers do not apply to civil servants.



Some feel relieved. They may have wanted to demand vaccinations but were worried about alienating vaccine fears and possibly losing them to competing employers who did not impose mandates.

“This rule, at least to a certain extent, balances the workforce in this way,” says Amanda Sonneborn, an employment lawyer at King & Spalding.

Richard Walkvist, CEO of the American Personnel Association, which represents temporary aid agencies and recruitment firms, said some large companies feel the mandate frees them from making the unpopular decision about whether to require injections.

“They say, ‘Look, as a condition of continuing our activities, we just have to fulfill the mandate, guys,” said Walkwist.

However, companies eligible for the new mandates still risk losing workers to smaller companies that have been exempted, especially at a time when many businesses are struggling to fill vacancies and workers are leaving in record numbers.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll last month found that 37% of unvaccinated workers said they would quit their jobs if they were required to receive a shot or weekly tests – a figure that rises to 70% if testing is not an option.



Across the country, Republican governors are lining up to challenge the rules in court.

“This rule is rubbish,” Republican South Carolina attorney general Alan Wilson said Thursday through a spokesman. “This is unconstitutional and we will fight it.”

It was unclear when South Carolina or other opposing states would file legal documents challenging this. But Wilson’s spokesman Robert Kittle said the attorney general’s objection was not related to the vaccine itself, but to OSHA’s legal right to impose such a rule.

Only 10 times has OSHA issued an emergency rule to circumvent normal administrative procedures, including the need for public comment. Until a state of emergency was declared in June covering the health risks of COVID, it hadn’t been for 38 years.

And unsurprisingly, courts overturned four emergency rules and partially blocked a fifth, according to a Congressional Research Service survey. To expedite compliance with the rules, the agency must show that it is acting to protect workers from “serious danger.”

The Biden administration is betting that the fight against the pandemic, which has claimed hundreds of thousands of American lives, is clearly up to this standard.

More on the COVID-19 pandemic


AP authors Christopher Rugaber of Washington and Jeff Mulvihill of Cherry Hill, NJ contributed to this report.

Nation World News Desk
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