WASHINGTON, Nov. 4 (Reuters) – President Joe Biden will enforce a federal mandate to have workers at U.S. companies with 100 or more employees vaccinated against COVID-19 weekly or tested weekly for the holiday season, US officials said on Thursday with.
Biden’s separate vaccine needs for federal contractors have been postponed for a month to Jan. 4, officials added, while millions of health facility and nursing home workers participating in Medicare and Medicaid government health programs will have their vaccinations by the same date.
Actions on vaccinations in the private sector were taken under the US Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA) Emergency Services for Workplace Safety, officials said. The mandate covers 84.2 million employees and 1.9 million private employers. Another 18.5 million workers from these employers are exempted because they either work remotely or work off-site all the time, OSHA said.
“Although I would have liked very much that requirements were not necessary, too many people remain unvaccinated so that we can finally get out of this pandemic. So I put requirements in place – and they work, ”Biden said in a statement.
OSHA estimates that 31.7 million insured workers are unvaccinated and 60% of employers need vaccinations, up from 25% today, resulting in an additional 22.7 million workers being vaccinated.
The various government vaccination regulations apply to 100 million employees, about two-thirds of the US workforce, the White House said. OSHA, in a 30-day public comment on private sector regulation, will consider extending the mandate to companies with fewer than 100 employees, officials said.
The private sector mandate is likely to trigger legal challenges and litigation based on the seldom applied law on which the lawsuit is based and questions about the constitutional limits of federal authority and competence in health care practice. The administration said the measure was well under OSHA’s jurisdiction.
The US Chamber of Commerce, the country’s largest corporate lobby group, said the government had made “some significant adjustments” to the rule, reflecting concerns from the business community.
Other industry groups raised concerns. The Retail Industry Leaders Association said the 60-day implementation deadline was insufficient and 90 days was desired.
“It misses the 75 days the government originally gave itself to implement a mandate for federal employees – a deadline they have now extended for government contractors while imposing a much stricter standard on the private sector,” the group said.
Some of the largest unions in the country like the United Auto Workers (UAW) said they were reviewing the rule to see how it affects current workplace protocols.
the 490-page rule is known as the Temporary Emergency Standard (ETS). Senate Republicans said they would try to repeal it through a law known as the Congressional Review Act.
“The government would not move forward if it did not believe it could legally defend it. … I think the constitutional challenges will all fail, ”Donald Verrilli, US attorney general in the administration of former President Barack Obama, told Reuters.
Biden unveiled plans for the mandate in September to increase vaccination rates and get more people back to work amid a dangerous spike in COVID-19 cases. At meetings with businesses and industry associations representing retailers, logistics companies and construction workers, executives urged the administration to postpone implementation until after the New Year as they raised concerns about labor shortages during the major holiday season.
Employers are not required to provide or pay for tests. The administration estimates that approximately 5% of employees covered by the regulation seek and receive religious or medical accommodation.
Failure to comply with mandate would result in fines of approximately $ 14,000 per violation, which would increase with multiple violations, officials said. They did not say whether workers were fired for being vaccinated or tested.
A company can leave all of its employees unvaccinated under the rule, as long as they are regularly tested and wear masks, officials said.
A recalcitrant minority of Americans have refused to be vaccinated. According to the latest data, approximately 70% of adults in the United States have been fully vaccinated and 80% have received at least one vaccination. On average, about 1,100 Americans die from COVID-19 every day, most of them unvaccinated. COVID-19 has killed more than 745,000 Americans.
“We have to do the right thing for our workforce,” Labor Secretary Marty Walsh told reporters.
The health care worker rule applies to more than 10 million people, around 70% of whom are already vaccinated, officials said. It applies to approximately 76,000 healthcare providers who receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursements, including hospitals, nursing homes, dialysis centers, outpatient surgical facilities, and home health authorities.
The administration said it has not requested any further measures in the workplace, which include workplace distancing, barriers, ventilation and hygiene.
Reporting by Nandita Bose, David Shepardson and Ahmed Aboulenein in Washington and Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Adaptation by Will Dunham, Chris Sanders and Shri Navratnam
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