The Biden administration is pushing back the date by which large businesses must comply with its Covid-19 vaccine mandate as legal uncertainty continues to hang over the requirement.
Following a federal appeals court ruling reinstating the administration’s vaccination rules, the Labor Department said Friday night it would give employers until Feb. 9 to comply with the rule’s testing requirements and until Jan. 10 to comply with the rest of it.
The original deadline announced by the administration was Jan. 4. The rules apply to employers with 100 or more workers and cover roughly 84 million people.
In a statement, the department said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration would exercise “enforcement discretion” to account for the uncertainty surrounding the appeals court decision.
The department said it wouldn’t issue testing citations before the February deadline “so long as an employer is exercising reasonable, good faith efforts to come into compliance with the standard.”
“OSHA will work closely with the regulated community to provide compliance assistance,” the statement said.
A divided panel of the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati on Friday lifted a stay blocking the mandate that had been issued by a lower court. In a 2-to-1 ruling, the appeals court said legal challenges to the requirements were likely to fail. Some employers immediately appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court.
The administration’s new deadline still leaves employers in limbo, said
president of the Buckeye Institute, which is representing one group of employers challenging the rule.
“The Sixth Circuit Court ruling really hung a sword of Damocles over businesses,” he said. “It cleared the way for implementation of the mandate with an insufficiently brief delay.”
He said the mandate could lead workers opposed to vaccinations to leave their employers for jobs at smaller companies not covered by the mandate, adding another complication to the continuing labor shortage.
The Supreme Court could also end up deciding the fate of two other vaccine requirements issued by the Biden administration. One for healthcare workers is already pending at the high court; another for federal contractors could end up there soon.
Under the rules, employees who aren’t vaccinated must produce a negative test at least once a week and wear a mask in the workplace. The requirements don’t apply to employees who don’t report to a workplace where others are present, those who work from home or those who only work outdoors.
Employers who don’t comply could face penalties of up to around $13,600 per violation.
Employees would be considered vaccinated under the rule even if they don’t have a booster shot, according to information on the Labor Department’s website.
Some local governments have imposed their own vaccine requirements on private employers. Earlier this month, New York City announced all employees who work in a workplace would have to be vaccinated by Dec. 27.
The Biden administration announced the requirement in November, after a monthslong campaign encouraging Americans to protect themselves from Covid-19 failed to significantly raise the number of people vaccinated.
About 61% of the population is fully vaccinated as of Sunday, of whom almost 30% have received a booster shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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