Deadline, details released for OSHA’s new vaccine mandate

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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a Jan. 4 deadline for its new emergency temporary standard requiring employers with 100 or more employees to enforce a COVID-19 vaccination mandate or require regular testing of employees.

President Joe Biden in September announced the measure, which is expected to affect more than 84 million workers. OSHA on Thursday announced specifics of the new rule.

The new emergency temporary standard requires private-sector employers with 100 or more employees – firm or company-wide – to do the following:

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  • Determine the vaccination status of each employee, obtain acceptable proof of vaccination status from vaccinated employees and maintain records and a roster of each employee’s vaccination status.
  • Require employees to provide “prompt notice” when they test positive for COVID-19 or receive a COVID-19 diagnosis. Employers must then remove the employee from the workplace, regardless of vaccination status. Employers must not allow them to return to work until they meet required criteria.
  • Ensure each worker who is not fully vaccinated is tested for COVID-19 at least weekly if the worker is in the workplace at least once a week, or within seven days before returning to work if the worker is away from the workplace for a week or longer.
  • Ensure that, in most circumstances, employees who have not been fully vaccinated wear a face covering when indoors or when occupying a vehicle with another person for work purposes.
  • Employers are required to provide paid time to workers to get vaccinated and to allow for paid leave to recover from any side effects.

The deadline for employers to ensure their workers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 is Jan. 4, 2022. After that, all covered employers must ensure that any employees who have not received their shots begin producing a verified negative test on at least a weekly basis. Employers must be in compliance with all other requirements – such as providing paid-time for employees to get vaccinated and masking for unvaccinated workers – on Dec. 5. The rule goes into effect when it is published in the Federal Register.

OSHA’s standard does not require employers to pay for testing, though they may be required to pay for testing because of other laws or collective bargaining agreements.

Employers are also not required to pay for face coverings.

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Employers that don’t comply with the vaccine mandate or paid-time-off requirement could face fines of up to $14,000 per violation.

The standard will cover two-thirds of the country’s private-sector workforce. In Wisconsin, the standard is expected to impact roughly 1.2 million workers, including about 382,000 in metro Milwaukee, based on 2018 figures from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

“COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on workers, and we continue to see dangerous levels of cases,” said U.S. labor secretary Marty Walsh. “We must take action to implement this emergency temporary standard to contain the virus and protect people in the workplace against the grave danger of COVID-19. Many businesses understand the benefits of having their workers vaccinated against COVID-19, and we expect many will be pleased to see this OSHA rule go into effect.”

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Some business leaders have raised concerns about the new rule. Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce said Thursday it shares the goal of increasing vaccination rates, but the new mandate introduces “significant regulatory, logistical and human resource issues” to businesses, along with potential fines.

“We will continue to encourage everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated, but this mandate shifts the burden of convincing people to get vaccinated almost entirely to our business community,” MMAC’s statement said.

OSHA is offering a webinar, frequently asked questions and other compliance materials to help businesses implement the new standards.

The Society for Human Resource Management also issued a how-to guide to help employers implement the new rule.

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