What Employers Need to Know about President Biden’s COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate

Key points about the new vaccine mandate:

  • Private employers with 100 or more employees must require their employees to get vaccinated or show proof of negative COVID-19 test results each week.
  • Until OSHA releases the official rule, general guidance can help you prepare.
  • Please note that this is subject to change with the release of the official rule.

On September 9, 2021, President Biden announced a new plan to further reduce the spread of COVID-19. Most notably, his plan requires private employers with 100 or more employees to ensure that their employees are vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID-19 testing. This plan will impact more than 80 million workers and has drawn a wide range of support and criticism. 

Understandably, private business owners have a lot of questions about the mandate and how to comply. While there is no official rule yet, here’s what we know so far:

What is Biden’s vaccine mandate?

All employers with 100 or more employees must ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated or require any workers who remain unvaccinated to produce a negative COVID-19 test result on at least a weekly basis before coming to work. Qualifying employers will also need to provide paid time off for employees to get vaccinated and/or recover from any vaccine-related side effects. 

The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is still developing and finalizing this rule. 

Who will enforce the vaccine mandate?

OSHA will issue an emergency temporary standard to enforce this mandate. However, OSHA does not have the manpower to inspect each qualifying business. As a result, it seems like employers and employees will self-enforce much of the mandate. This does not mean that you shouldn’t try to stay compliant, though.

How can employers stay compliant with the vaccine mandate? How can they prepare?

Because there is no official rule yet, there are no set guidelines for compliance. However, there are a few ways you can prepare:

Please note that this information is subject to change with the release of an official mandate.

Reconsider vaccines

Implementing any new policy can be challenging and a vaccine-related one is certainly no exception. But whether you’re concerned about employee reactions or something else, you may want to reconsider a vaccine policy if you don’t have one already. With a Federal mandate on the way, more vaccinated employees will mean less compliance risks. Greater vaccination rates can also reduce your workload – you won’t have to check an overwhelming amount of COVID-19 test results each week to stay compliant.

Create a vaccine policy

Next, draft a vaccine policy for your business. Consider:

Mandatory vaccination versus weekly testing

To start, decide if your business will require vaccination or allow weekly testing to comply with the mandate. How will you track vaccination? Do you have someone who will be able to check employee test results each week? Depending on your bandwidth, creating a mandatory vaccine policy may be easier for your business.

It isn’t yet clear if employers will need to cover the cost of weekly COVID-19 testing for their employees. If they do, you’ll need to consider your budgetary constraints, too. Since vaccination is free, mandatory vaccination may be more reasonable for your business.

Exemptions

Once you decide on your strategy, make sure your vaccine policy includes the proper exemptions for people with qualified medical conditions, disabilities, and sincerely held religious beliefs. Consult your legal advisor for additional help.

Anticipate accommodation requests

As noted above, the vaccine mandate does not override certain exemptions for people with qualified medical conditions, disabilities as defined under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and sincerely held religious beliefs as defined under Title VII of The Civil Rights Act

To confirm that an employee has a qualifying medical reason for exemption, you’re allowed to request verification from them. However, be sure to keep all medical information confidential. You should also try to stay consistent when requesting verification. 

When it comes to religious beliefs, many religious objections are protected. You should only seek additional verification if you have a specific reason to doubt that an employee’s objection is religion-based.

Prepare for employee concerns

Some employees will be concerned about a vaccine mandate. Be sure to explain the reasoning behind your policy. Let employees know that, as a business, you need to comply with OSHA’s requirements. Show them that your policy is also meant to keep them and their workplace safe.

When employees express their concerns, listen to them carefully. You may be able to work out a reasonable accommodation, like weekly testing instead of vaccination. Other employees may be willing to get the vaccine, but still feel anxious about new policies and workplace changes. You can support them with mental health programs and other initiatives.

What are the penalties for non-compliance?

Employers who don’t comply with the vaccine mandate or provide the required paid time off may face fines of up to $14,000 per violation.

What else does Biden’s latest COVID-19 plan include?

President Biden’s plan includes additional requirements for Federal workers, Federal contractors, and healthcare workers:

  • All Federal workers must be fully vaccinated. This includes employees of contractors that do business with the Federal government.
  • Likewise, healthcare workers at participating Medicare and Medicaid settings must be fully vaccinated. These healthcare settings include, but are not limited to, hospitals, dialysis facilities, and home health agencies.
  • Lastly, large entertainment venues should require their patrons to show proof of vaccination or testing for entry.

Unanswered employer questions

Biden’s sweeping mandate has left employers with a lot of important questions like:

  • Does the vaccine mandate apply to remote workers?
  • Do part-time workers count towards the employee threshold?
  • What about employers who have more than 100 employees but only 20 or so employees in each location?
  • Are employers required to pay for COVID-19 testing for their employees?
  • Will employers need to collect proof of vaccination?

Unfortunately, until OSHA releases the official rule, there are no clear answers. We’ll update this blog post once the official rule is released and we have more guidance.

To prepare for the upcoming vaccine mandate, consider updating your company handbook with a vaccine policy. Our blog and checklist can help you keep track of all of the COVID-19 policy updates you may need to make to stay compliant.

Legal Disclaimer: The information contained in this guide is for general informational purposes only. Under no circumstance shall we have any liability to you for any loss or damage of any kind incurred as a result of the use of the template or reliance on any information provided in this template. Your reliance on any information is solely at your own risk.


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