- President Joe Biden has ordered OSHA to mandate vaccines or routine testing for large employers.
- But numerous questions remain around what that will entail for businesses.
- Retail Industry Leaders Association say that a vaccine mandate amounts to a “colossal undertaking.”
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
President Joe Biden’s new vaccine mandate for employers with over 100 employees has prompted numerous questions from business leaders. The Business Roundtable, a group made up of executives from top tech and retail businesses, has come out in support of the mandate. However, few large companies have shared how exactly they plan on implementing the new rules.
“While we await more details about the requirements, it is essential that the Administration understand that requiring large employers to mandate vaccination of all employees or produce a negative test is a colossal undertaking,” a spokesperson for the Retail Industry Leaders Association said in a statement. “Coordination with industry and all levels of government is essential to avoid a chaotic and counterproductive situation.”
Still, there are a number of questions currently rattling around C-suite-level Zoom sessions and conference calls, sources close to discussions told Insider.
1. When will the vaccine mandate take effect?
2. How will OSHA enforce the vaccine mandate?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is tasked with ensuring workplace safety, is in charge of introducing the new standard. However, OSHA is known for being understaffed, and it remains unclear how exactly the agency plans to go about enforcing the new mandate.
3. How will employers and OSHA verify vaccination status?
Vaccination verification is a process that varies between localities across the US. For a company with over 100 employees, tracking vaccination status could prove to be a major undertaking.
4. Will the vaccine mandate include exemptions?
Insider spoke with Kate Bally, the Director of Labor and Employment Service at Thomson Reuters Practical Law. She said that there will likely be carve-outs in the mandate for people with disabilities and individuals with sincerely held religious beliefs. But employees can’t just make up an anti-vaccination spirituality on the spot.
“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,'” Bally said. “It’s not enough to say, ‘I’m afraid of the vaccine.'”
5. What penalties could large employers incur for failing to comply with the policy?
Business leaders want to know what kind of penalties are in store for companies that break the rules. Bally said that it’s possible that, with backing from OSHA, such employers could be more at risk for class action lawsuits.
6. What penalties could non-exempted workers incur for failing to get vaccinated?
It’s still not clear what exactly will become of employees who refuse to get vaccinated or routinely tested for COVID-19. Will companies be forced to terminate workers who refuse to get vaccinated or tested? Businesses won’t know until they get a clear answer from OSHA.
7. If workers opt for testing rather than vaccination, who will get stuck with the bill for the tests?
In a recent article from Lauren Hirsch, Stacy Cowley and Noam Scheiber of the New York Times, business leaders expressed concerns about who will end up paying for COVID-19 tests.
8. How does OSHA expect businesses to store information around testing?
Employers dealing with workers that opt for routine testing will have to collect and store results. It’s not clear what requirements around this will be.
9. Will workers look for a loophole?
Bally told Insider that she believed the language around OSHA’s mandate could provide an opening for anti-vax employees. The language in the Biden administration’s mandate has essentially equated vaccinations with routine-testing.
“Are workers going to say, ‘Hey, wait a second. The federal government has said regular testing is pretty much good enough,'” Bally said. “Is that going to give them an additional argument to say: ‘Hey, employers with mandates, I shouldn’t have to take the vaccine because the Biden ministration says this regular testing is a good substitute.'”
Depending on how the mandate’s language and the case law plays out, the OSHA mandate could backfire for companies with strict vaccine mandates.
10. What happens if there are supply chain issues around tests?
In its recent statement, the Retail Industry Leaders Association pointed out that there have been recent supply chain issues around tests: “Testing capacity is already stressed and must be scaled immensely to meet the enormous demand that will result from these new requirements.”
It’s unclear how OSHA will take the possibility of testing shortages and backlogs into account.
11. What types of COVID-19 tests do employees need?
There are a number of different COVID-19 tests out there, including rapid tests, Polymerase Chain Reaction, commonly known as PCR, tests, and even tests you can do at home. It’s unclear what standard of testing will OSHA mandate for large employers.