- President Joe Biden recently directed OSHA to issue a vaccination mandate for large employers.
- But that move doesn’t meant that large retailers will immediately begin requiring the jab.
- Insider spoke with labor lawyer Kate Bally about what’s next for retailers with large workforces.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
A group representing executives from Walmart, Amazon, Home Depot, and more has voiced support for the Biden administration’s plan to mandate vaccines or weekly testing for employers with more than 100 workers. But few of these companies have said yet how they plan to respond to the changes.
A Target spokesperson told Insider that they had no news to share regarding their vaccination strategy. Home Depot confirmed to Insider that it has not yet issued any sort of vaccination mandate for its workers.
“We’re evaluating these new developments,” a Home Depot spokesperson told Insider. “We don’t currently require associates to get vaccinated. We’re communicating regularly with associates through our internal channels to encourage COVID-19 vaccination, and we provide information and resources to make it easier for our associates to get the vaccine.”
Additionally, a Dollar Tree spokesperson told Insider that, “The health and safety of our associates, customers, and vendors is a top priority. We are focused on complying with all federal, state, and local ordinances.”
Walmart recently issued a partial vaccination mandate that only applied to corporate employees, and left out most frontline workers. Walmart did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration, which is tasked with ensuring workplace safety, is in charge of implementing and enforcing the new standard.
Large retailers, which have hundreds of thousands of workers across the US, are likely waiting for more direction from OSHA before making any moves on the new mandate, said Kate Bally, the Director of Labor and Employment Service at Thomson Reuters Practical Law. She said that there a currently a number of unknowns in terms of how the mandates will play out.
“It’s not clear exactly how it will all work,” she said.
That means that large employers will likely take time to plan out their next moves.
“If you are a big retailer, making these changes is probably like moving a giant ship,” Bally said. “You can’t just turn on a dime.”
Bally noted that a similar emergency temporary order was issued for healthcare workers in June. In that ETS, employers were tasked with paying for vaccinations, as well as compensating workers for their time spent getting vaccinated and recovering from possible side effects.
But according to Bally, there are a few potential areas where things could get complicated for employers under the new order. Vaccination mandates are subject to carve-outs for workers who refuse the shot on grounds of their disability or “sincerely-held religious beliefs.” In regards to religious beliefs, it’s not as simple as claiming that you strongly disagree with vaccinations.
“The employer gets to push back and say, ‘I need to hear from your pastor, I need to hear them say that your religion doesn’t authorize vaccinations,'” she said. “It’s not enough to say, ‘I’m afraid of the vaccine.'”
Some large employers have likely held off on mandating the shot for their frontline workers over litigation concerns, she said.
“So many employers are asking, ‘How do I not get sued?'” Bally said. “They want to protect the health and safety of employees and customers, but they’re worried about large class action lawsuits.”
But the upcoming order from OSHA may render those concerns largely moot for many employers.