Millions of Americans working in companies with 100 or more employees will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by January 4 or be tested weekly for the virus under government rules released Thursday.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said companies that fail to comply could face penalties of about $14,000 per violation.
The new requirements, which were first previewed by President Joe Biden in September, will apply to about 84 million workers in medium and large businesses, although it is unclear how many of those workers have not been vaccinated.
The stricter rules will apply to another 17 million people who work in nursing homes, hospitals and other facilities receiving funding from Medicare and Medicaid. Those workers will not have the option of testing and will need vaccinations.
It was unclear how OSHA planned to implement the rules. A senior administration official said the agency will target companies if complaints are received.
Workers will be able to demand exemption 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 rules are a cornerstone of Biden’s most aggressive effort to combat the spread of COVID-19, which has killed more than 740,000 people in the US.
OSHA drafted rules under emergency authorization to protect employees from an imminent health hazard. Senior administration officials said the rules block conflicting state laws or orders, including those that prohibit employers from getting vaccinated, tested or wearing 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 attorney general have indicated they plan to sue, arguing that only Congress can enforce such broad requirements under emergency authorization.
Last week, 19 states sued to block Biden’s narrow mandate that employees of federal contractors be vaccinated. The requirement was due to take effect on December 8, but the administration said on Thursday it would be delayed until January 4 to meet requirements from other large employers and health care providers.
Workers will need to receive two doses of Pfizer or Moderna Vaccine or one dose of Johnson & Johnson Vaccine by January 4. Unvaccinated employees must submit a verified negative test to the company at least once a week and wear a face mask. Work.
Employees who test positive should be removed from the workplace.
OSHA will require businesses to provide paid time off for employees to receive 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 be effective from December 5.
Because the vaccines are free, OSHA said, companies are not required to provide or pay for testing.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued a rule requiring vaccinations for workers in 76,000 health facilities and home health care providers who receive funding from government health programs. A senior administration official said several large private health care organizations implemented their own mandates and achieved high vaccination rates – 96% or more – without widespread resignation.
The White House sees the new requirements as a powerful tool to lower the ranks of the millions of Americans who have so far refused to get a shot.
For weeks, Biden has encouraged businesses not to wait for the OSHA rule to take effect. He has touted businesses that have already announced vaccine mandates of their own and urged other companies to follow his lead.
Administration officials say those efforts are paying off, with about 70% of the country’s adults now fully vaccinated.
Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, said in late July that it required all employees at its headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, as well as its managers traveling within the US, to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 4. . But the company had reduced the need for shots to its frontline workers.
United Airlines required US employees to be vaccinated or face termination. Very few of its 67,000 employees refused to do so.
In August, Tyson Foods told its 120,000 US employees that they should be vaccinated by November 1. A week before that deadline, the company said 96% of its employees were fully vaccinated.
However, some companies have expressed fears that some vaccine-hesitant workers may leave, further thinning their workforces in an already tight labor market.
Several large business groups complained about the timing of the mandate. Retail groups worried that the need could disrupt their operations during the crucial Christmas shopping period. Retailers and others also said it could make supply chain disruptions worse.
The mandate on federal contractors was demonstrated by opponents, including workers at the NASA rocket engine test site in Mississippi. Some said they were immune because they contracted COVID-19. Others said the vaccines violated their religious beliefs and constitutional rights.
“No one should be forced to seek medical treatment to keep their job,” said Nyla Trumbach, an engineer at the site. “There’s years and years of experience and skill here, and I want anyone who is looking to see what we stand to lose here if these people don’t keep their jobs.”
Dozens of groups called for a meeting with administration officials, including the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the AFL-CIO and anti-vaccine organizations, to air their concerns and objections to the OSHA rule’s potential provisions.
Associated Press writer Stacy Pleasance-Jenkins in Picayune, Mississippi, contributed to this report.
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