Policies & Issues

What to Know About the Vaccine Mandate

Policies & IssuesNov 11, 2021

What to Know About the Vaccine Mandate

Plus, why the National Retail Federation is suing over the OSHA rule.

A new OSHA rule will require companies with 100 or more employees to either have their workers fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or require weekly testing. Here’s what retailers need to know.
New York—President Biden announced in early September the U.S. would be ramping up the fight against COVID-19, starting in the workplace.

He reached out to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), directing the government agency to implement an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) requiring companies with 100 or more employees to either have their workers fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or require weekly testing.

The announcement left retailers with many unanswered questions, but more clarity on the mandate rolled out last week.

Under the OSHA rule, employees will receive paid time off, up to 4 hours and including travel time, to get the vaccine, and sick leave if they need time to recover from the side effects.

The rule applies to full-time and part-time employees but not independent contractors.

Unvaccinated employees will be required to wear face coverings at work, going into effect Dec. 5.

This does not apply to employees who work alone in a room with floor to ceiling walls and a closed door.

The mask can be temporarily removed while eating or drinking, or for identification purposes to comply with safety and security requirements.

Employers are not required to pay for testing or provide tests to unvaccinated employees. 

 Related stories will be right here … 

The deadline for employers to ensure their workers are vaccinated or being tested weekly is Jan. 4. Proof of employee vaccination status needs to be recorded by Dec. 6.

The OSHA rule does offer medical and religious exemptions, allowing those who object for any reason to be tested weekly instead of receiving the vaccination.

But the option to be tested rather than receive the vaccine is not available to all employees.

A separate rule by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services requires healthcare workers to be vaccinated by the same Jan. 4 deadline, with no testing option available.

The rule applies to all employees working at healthcare facilities that receive federal funding from Medicare or Medicaid.

Additionally, federal workers have until Nov. 22 to receive the shot while federal contractors have until Jan. 4, with no testing option available to either group.

Companies under the OSHA rule do have the option to challenge the decision in court, and several lawsuits have been filed.

The National Retail Federation filed suit on Nov. 9 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Several other trade organizations have joined it, including the American Trucking Associations, FMI-The Food Industry Association, the International Warehouse Logistics Association, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing, the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, and the National Federation of Independent Business.

The NRF sent a letter to President Biden when OSHA published the rule on Nov. 5 and sent an expanded letter to the Department of Labor and President Biden on Nov. 9, requesting an extension on the implementation of the mandate.

“We are deeply concerned about the timing for implementing the OSHA vaccine mandate during the most important season of the year for retailers and customers,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay in a press release about the mandate.

Shay said retailers are already faced with labor shortages, supply chain issues, and the legal and practical challenges of implementing the guidance during the holiday season.

“The Dec. 6 deadline to provide proof of employee vaccination status and the Jan. 4 deadline for testing unvaccinated employees are both unworkable and virtually impossible,” Shay said.

“We have consistently and repeatedly communicated our concerns about the practical challenges of meeting those arbitrary targets. However, it appears that our only remaining course of action is to petition for judicial relief.”

Arguments against the OSHA rule include the accusation that the mandate violates the 10th Amendment by giving powers to the federal government that are reserved for the states while others say the ETS exceeds the power given to OSHA by Congress.

The federal government contends it has the authority to issue the mandate since Congress has authorized OSHA to issue an ETS when employees are exposed to a “grave danger,” like COVID-19.

There have been nearly 757,000 coronavirus-related deaths in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shown people who are unvaccinated are at a much greater risk than those who are fully vaccinated to test positive or die from the coronavirus.

As of Nov. 4, there have been 426.7 million vaccine doses administered, according to the CDC.

Overall, 67 percent of the total U.S. population have received at least one dose of vaccine while about 58 percent have been fully vaccinated.

Lenore Fedowis the associate editor, news at National Jeweler, covering the retail beat and the business side of jewelry.

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