In a dramatic turn of events, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has decided to suspend enforcement of President Biden’s vaccine mandate for large employers.
Although the agency originally developed the rule, it was left with little option after a federal appeals court upheld a stay on the mandate and told OSHA to "take no steps to implement or enforce" the Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) "until further court order." The new policy was scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 4, 2022.
The ever-changing situation with the mandate will no doubt create confusion for both employers and an estimated 84 million employees it would impact. But the status of the ETS could change in a heartbeat if the White House or the Department of Justice (DOJ) gets involved. According to The Hill’s coverage of the reversal, more than two dozen state attorneys general and other groups are also challenging the mandate in court.
OSHA remains confident
OSHA stated that it “remains confident in its authority to protect workers in emergencies.” However, it has suspended all activities related to the implementation and enforcement of the ETS effective immediately. When it initially announced the policy, OSHA estimated that the rule would save thousands of lives and prevent more than 250,000 hospitalizations stemming from workplace exposure to COVID-19.
Despite the setback, the White House isn’t giving up on the proposed rule. Officials say they will continue trying to persuade businesses to implement vaccination requirements. In a press conference aboard Air Force One, White House Deputy Press Secretary Chris Meagher said the DOJ is rigorously defending the vaccine mandate in court.
“We’re confident in the congressionally provided authority to protect workers who are considered to be in grave danger,” Meagher commented. “Our message remains the same: that nothing is stopping businesses from taking action to protect their employees. And so, we encourage businesses to step up and continue to take that action.”