The federal mandate is slated to start on January 10th. OSHA won’t issue any citations to employers who don’t comply with the mandate before then, and won’t issue citations for non-compliance with the testing requirement before Feb. 9.
The mandate requires workers at private companies with 100 or more employees (a total of more than 84 million workers) to get vaccinated for Covid-19 by Jan. 9 or risk losing their jobs. While 73% of Americans over 12 have received at least one shot, there has been significant opposition to blanket vaccination policies.
President Joe Biden announced the rule in September, and the Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), wrote the rule under emergency authority due to the ongoing public health crisis. Opponents of the rule say it’s an overstep of power by the executive branch of government, while supporters claim the extenuating circumstances of the pandemic warrant the broad rule.
How Does the OSHA Vaccine Mandate Work?
The vaccine requirement applies to workers at companies with 100 or more employees. Included companies must provide paid time off to workers who need to get vaccinated, and to workers recovering from side effects after receiving a vaccine dose.
The mandate specifies that any worker not fully vaccinated by Jan. 9 would need to provide negative test results at least weekly; starting Dec. 5, unvaccinated workers were required to wear a mask while on the job site per the rule.
If workers refuse to get vaccinated, they’re on the hook to pay for weekly tests and masks. Giving employees the option to test weekly in lieu of vaccination would be at each company’s discretion.
Employers who didn’t enforce the new rule could face fines of up to $14,000 per violation, though it’s unclear how OSHA plans to enforce the mandate.
Under a similar rule, employees at health care facilities that participate in Medicare or Medicaid—the majority of health care workers in the U.S., a White House memo notes—don’t have the option to submit weekly tests in lieu of vaccination. In short: If you don’t get vaccinated, you’ll lose your job.
There are two challenges to the health care facility mandate, putting it on hold in 24 states.
Some companies had already chosen to implement a vaccine mandate without a masking exception before the mandate was announced.
“The new OSHA rule establishes a floor for safety – not a ceiling,” wrote Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh and White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients in a USA Today op-ed on Nov. 4. “Many businesses have already agreed to institute a full vaccination requirement without a testing option.”
The OSHA mandate wasn’t the first nationwide vaccine mandate, but it’s the first that includes private companies. Biden signed an executive order in September that required federal workers and contractors to get vaccinated for the coronavirus. Federal workers were required to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 22. Federal contractors would have needed to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 18, but that rule has also been suspended while it’s being challenged in court.
If they don’t comply and don’t have a religious or medical exemption, federal employees can be suspended or terminated.