As the U.S. approaches two years of living under the COVID-19 cloud, the Federal government is enacting vaccine mandate rules to try to stem the tide of this virus. With confirmed cases nearing 45 million and American deaths topping 700,000, most experts anticipated that President Biden would announce vaccine mandates for federal workers. What surprised some industry watchers, however, was that the President’s vaccine mandates also included the private sector.
We’ll start by exploring OSHA’s private sector vaccine mandate and then present business protection steps that companies with 100 employees or more can take to prepare for these new rules.
What We Know About the Private Sector Vaccine Mandate
While the rules for OSHA’s vaccine mandate are not yet finalized, here’s what we know about the President’s directives to OSHA for implementing the new rules:
- The rules will require employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated.
- Alternatively, employers can require any workers who remain unvaccinated to produce a negative test result on at least a weekly basis before coming to work.
- The vaccine mandate will also apply to private sector businesses that have contracts with the Federal government that begin on or after October 15, 2021, regardless of the number of employees.
- The rules will require employers to provide employees with paid time off both to get vaccinated and to recover from any side effects resulting from the vaccination itself.
- OSHA will implement these new requirements through an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) that will be in force for at least six months, at which time OSHA may make it permanent.
How Your Business Can Prepare for the Vaccine Mandate
Experts anticipate that the ETS vaccine mandates will take effect relatively quickly—likely within 60 to 90 days of the President’s September 9 announcement. For business protection purposes, employers must immediately build the policies and infrastructure to handle this new mandate. These may include the following steps:
- Vaccination verification. Employers will need a policy for verifying and recording employee vaccination data while maintaining the confidentiality of employee health information. For example, many employees will have been vaccinated months ago. Some may have lost their vaccination cards. Will digital images of those cards be sufficient?
- Decide whether to allow weekly testing. The vaccine mandate does not require employers to provide an alternative weekly testing option. Industry watchers question whether allowing negative tests in lieu of vaccination will be more trouble than it’s worth. For example:
- Who pays for the tests? Will the company’s health insurance provider contribute to or fully cover the cost of each test?
- Will at-home tests be sufficient? If so, how will results be verified?
- How does a large employer process a weekly influx of test results?
- Plan for accommodation requests. Some people are medically prohibited from getting the vaccine. Employers need to prepare for and provide reasonable accommodations for such individuals. A bigger question remains surrounding individuals who object to the vaccine on religious grounds. Businesses may want to seek legal counsel to create a policy for handling and verifying employee eligibility for religious-based exemption requests.
While not all employers will agree with the vaccine mandate, the risk of OSHA violations should be taken seriously. OSHA fines for a “serious violation” can be roughly $14,000 each and, if the agency finds that a violation is willful, that amount can be raised to nearly $140,000. For most businesses, that means that drawing a line in the sand in defiance of this policy will come at a great cost.
Hopefully, the OSHA vaccine mandate ETS will clear up many of the remaining questions. In the meantime, if you are wondering how the vaccine mandate could impact your insurance portfolio, IOAUSA can help. Contact Roger for more information.