- President Joe Biden proposes COVID-19 vaccine mandate for companies employing more than 100 people
- Rule would be implemented through an OSHA temporary emergency standard
- White House ramps up efforts to encourage vaccinations amid new surge in COVID-19 infections and faltering economic growth
Summary by Dirk Langeveld
Companies with more than 100 employees would be required to mandate that their workers be vaccinated against COVID-19 under a proposed rule announced by President Joe Biden on Thursday. The rule would be implemented via a temporary emergency standard from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The proposal marks a more aggressive step in White House efforts to encourage Americans to get vaccinated. It also comes as the COVID-19 Delta variant has driven a new surge in infections and thousands of COVID-19 deaths each week, dealing a blow to public approval of the Biden administration’s pandemic response and hindering the nation’s economic recovery. Biden offered more pointed criticism of vaccine opponents, saying “patience is wearing thin” with those who refuse to get vaccinated.
The rule would exempt the nation’s smallest employers, but would still apply to many firms that are still regarded as small businesses despite their more substantial payroll. Many larger corporations are already implementing vaccine mandates, but an OSHA standard could help reinforce these requirements and encourage other companies to put them in place. An estimated 80 million workers would be affected by the change.
OSHA previously issued an emergency temporary standard on COVID-19, but it came nearly three months after a White House deadline and was limited to health care settings. The standard, which also included optional guidance for other employers, came before the emergence of the Delta variant and allowed fully vaccinated workers to be exempted from indoor masking and social distancing. The Centers for Disease Control has since recommended that people in areas of substantial or high COVID-19 transmission resume wearing masks in indoor public places, regardless of their vaccination status.
The proposed rule also requires that employers offer their employees time off to get the vaccine. It would allow employees to claim a medical or religious exemption, but these workers would need to be tested weekly for COVID-19.
Some aspects of the rule remain unclear, such as whether it will apply to a company’s entire workforce or only employees present at a physical location. Biden also did not outline what penalties might be imposed on companies that refuse to abide by the mandate, though one administration official said it could be as high as $14,000 per violation.
The proposal has won the support of several business groups, though critics have challenged its constitutionality and threatened a legal challenge.
The proposed mandate came on the heels of several White House measures to bolster vaccine requirements, including orders for federal workers and contractors to get the shot along with health care workers in hospitals and other facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding.