Recently, President Biden announced the White House plan for combating the continued impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. This comprehensive six-pronged strategy was designed to address all societal and economic threats posed by the pandemic. As part of this, vaccination will become required for employees of various industries.
Specifically, the mandate requires vaccination to be required for all federal workers, federal contractors, and all workers at health care facilities receiving federal funding. In aggregate the mandate affects approximately 3 million federal employees and federal contractors as well 17 million health care workers. For these federal workers or health care workers, vaccination will become mandatory. An additional 80 million employees of private companies with over 100 workers will also be affected. This latter group will have the option of vaccination or weekly testing for Covid-19.
This monumental mandate affects an estimated 100 million US workers.
As expected, this mandate has already created questions. Initial reaction surrounded the legality of the mandate as well as its potential effectiveness. Other issues were how it could be enforced or what type of punitive action would occur for those not in compliance.
As further scrutiny and discussion followed the initial announcement, some of these questions were answered. The mandate will be implemented by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), a regulatory agency acting under the Department of Labor. The mandate will be exempted by those states that have their own state-run OSHA which would have oversight authority in those instances. Notably, these state-run OSHA agencies would be compelled to produce comparable mandates that they would enforce. For violations anywhere in the country, the fines could near $14,000 dollars per violation, a number that was debated to represent the total fine to a company but could theoretically represent the fine for each individual employee violation.
Initial review revealed other major areas of concern for businesses. If OSHA investigated an organization, then that entity would have to show that all of their employees were vaccinated or receiving weekly testing. Quickly, some businesses realized the difficulty of maintaining compliance in this area and the tremendous administrative burden this requirement would create.
This rule means that companies must store documentation of all their vaccinations and testing in case OSHA-related agencies investigate their organizations.
As virtually no organizations have a system in place that can accommodate this regulatory burden, companies are already scrambling to find solutions and trying to gauge the timing before their systems need to be upgraded. The rule is expected to take place within 3-6 weeks but several months could elapse before any of these rules can be enforced with inspections. Additionally, in some locales there will certainly be lawsuits that could delay this implementation. Despite some heated local rhetoric, many legal experts conclude that the mandate will hold up to legal challenges.
The era of vaccine mandates has arrived for US businesses. The future of their success will depend on how they navigate the regulatory, economic, and labor-related issues related to the pandemic. The strongest and most prepared will be the ones most likely to survive.