Most of our readers are aware that on November 9, 2021, OSHA issued an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) requiring covered employers (employers with 100 or more employees) to require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The ETS allows employers to decide whether to adopt weekly COVID-19 testing and mask mandates in lieu of vaccinations. On November 12, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit prohibited the ETS from taking effect, additional lawsuits were also filed against OSHA. All lawsuits were consolidated and assigned to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. On December 17, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals dissolved the order of the Fifth Circuit and reinstated the ETS.
Many employers and state attorneys general requested that the U.S. Supreme Court pause the Sixth Circuit Order. These petitioners asked the Supreme Court to fast-track their appeals and temporarily stop enforcement of the ETS while the Supreme Court considers the appeal. The Supreme Court declined to stop the enforcement.
The Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments for January 7, 2022, on both the OSHA ETS and the Interim Final Rule, requiring health care workers to be vaccinated, issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
What should an employer do?
Large employers who are subject to the ETS are presented with the dilemma of whether to prepare for enforcement of the ETS or delay until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the appeal from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals order. OSHA has announced that in light of the uncertainty caused by the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, they have delayed the original effective date of the ETS. OSHA has stated that it will not issue citations for non-compliance with any requirements of the ETS before January 10, 2022, and will not issue any citations for noncompliance with the testing requirements before February 9, so long as an employer “is exercising reasonable, good faith efforts to come into compliance” with the vaccine standard.
We recommend that covered employers with 100 or more employees begin to prepare for the implementation of the ETS so that they are ready when it comes into effect. With oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court scheduled for January 7, it is unlikely that any decision will be issued until after January 10, the date OSHA has set as the effective date of the ETS. Therefore, as of January 10, 2021, covered employers must begin to exercise “reasonable, good faith efforts to come into compliance” with the vaccine standard.
Employers should take the following steps while waiting for the Supreme Court’s ruling:
- Develop a mandatory vaccine policy.
- Determine whether to adopt weekly testing for employees who do not wish to be vaccinated. This policy must require that unvaccinated employees wear face coverings.
- If weekly testing will be allowed in lieu of vaccinations, unvaccinated employees should provide proof of a negative test by February 9, 2022.
- Determine the process for employees to request religious or medical exemptions, and who will be involved in making decisions on these requests.
- Develop forms for employees to request exemptions.
- Collect vaccine status information for your employees and develop the required vaccination roster showing the vaccination status of each employee.
- Develop compliance training for managers involved in implementing the vaccination/testing policies.
- Deliver information about the policies to employees as required by the ETS.
The ETS requires that employers pay up to four hours of paid time off to non-exempt employees to obtain the required vaccination so employers should begin preparations for payments. In addition, the ETS requires that employees be given reasonable paid time off, including paid sick leave, to recover from the side effects following each dose of the vaccine.
The tumultuous introduction of the ETS has caused uncertainty and confusion for employers. However, at present, the OSHA ETS goes into effect on January 10 and employers cannot afford to simply do nothing and wait for the Supreme Court to rule. Employers must engage in good faith efforts to come into compliance with the ETS by January 10, 2022.
If you have questions about the ETS or would like further guidance please contact Phyllis Karasov at email@example.com.