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As White House Seeks Broader COVID-19 Vaccine Rule for Workplaces, Employer Mandates Plateau

  • In a recent Gallup poll, 36 percent say their company requires workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to return to the workplace
  • This figure has plateaued in recent months following a steady increase in the summer and fall
  • A federal vaccine mandate for employers with 100 or more workers is currently facing a court challenge

Summary by Dirk Langeveld

The share of employees saying their company requires COVID-19 vaccination in order for people to return to the workforce has plateaued in recent months, according to Gallup. The organization suggested that recent court battles over vaccine requirements may be keeping companies from establishing vaccination rules, even as support for them as grown.

In a poll of 2,000 workers issued between Nov. 29 and Dec. 5, 36 percent said their company is requiring COVID-19 vaccination. The share of respondents reporting such a requirement stood at just 5 percent in May and climbed steadily in the summer and fall, but has remained flat for three months.

Gallup noted how the poll was issued shortly after a court decision blocking COVID-19 vaccine mandates for federal government workers. A rule from the Occupational Safety Administration requiring employers with 100 or more workers to establish “vaccine or test” policies is also currently in limbo as it goes before a federal court.

Employers have generally taken a firmer stance on COVID-19 vaccination requirements, following efforts to encourage or incentivize the doses earlier this year, as the Delta variant of the virus drove a new spike of infections in the summer and fall. The latest poll found that just 43 percent of employees said their workplace was encouraging vaccination rather than requiring it, down from 66 percent in May and 55 percent in August.

However, there is currently a patchwork of vaccination rules across the nation as the White House, states, local governments, and individual employers all establish their own policies. New York City recently announced a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for private employers to take effect on Dec. 27. On the other end of the spectrum, the governors in states like Florida and Texas have issued executive orders barring private employers from establishing vaccine mandates.

The OSHA emergency temporary standard, which applies to employers with 100 or more employers, was introduced on Nov. 5. This requires qualifying businesses to establish policies on COVID-19 vaccination, including creating a roster of employees’ vaccination statuses, providing time off for workers to get vaccinated and recover from side effects, and require unvaccinated employees to wear a face covering when working with others. OSHA originally set the deadlines of Dec. 5 for these provisions to be in place and Jan. 4 for employers to require that workers either be vaccinated or test weekly for COVID-19.

The rule seeks, in part, to provide a more consistent policy on COVID-19 vaccination requirements in the workplace. It agency also says the rule will help protect workers and curtail the spread of the virus, and that mandates issued by private companies have proven to be effective in boosting vaccination rates.

Gallup concurs with this last contention, estimating that while one in four workers are unvaccinated, only 3 percent are likely to quit, seek an exemption, or force their employer to fire them due to noncompliance with a mandate. While 35 percent of respondents in the poll were opposed to a vaccine mandate, 55 percent were in favor. The share opposing such rules has held steady, while the share strongly favoring them has grown from 29 percent in May to 43 percent.

Vaccine mandates are being challenged in court on a variety of fronts, with judges often upholding rules set by state and local governments. Those opposing federal rules on COVID-19 vaccines, such as policies applying to federal contractors, argue that they were established without a sufficient public comment period, were not authorized by Congress, and infringe on states’ authority on public health issues. The White House argues that it has the authority to establish such rules, and that the federal requirements supersede any local ones.

The OSHA standard for larger employers is the subject of multiple lawsuits, and implementation and enforcement has been suspended after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ordered a stay. However, public comment on the rule remains open through Jan. 19, and the White House and public health officials are encouraging businesses to proceed with establishing their own mandates to respond to the new Omicron variant and minimize the potential for another surge in infections this winter.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit decided Thursday that the issue would be considered by a three-judge panel rather than all 16 judges on the court, an action favored by opponents of the OSHA rule. The White House is seeking to reinstate the standard as soon as possible, saying a delay could potentially have a negative impact on public health and the economy.

The Senate voted 52-48 last week to reject the mandate for larger employers. However, the vote was largely symbolic as the measure faces an uncertain future in the House of Representatives and the White House is vowing to veto the bill.

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