US mandates COVID vaccines or tests for companies with 100+ employees by Jan. 4

Coronavirus

NEW YORK — The tri-state region has the highest number of large companies in the country, and now, all of the employees at those corporations will be required to be vaccinated against COVID by Jan. 4, or to be tested weekly and wear a mask at work.  

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, released the order on Thursday.  It’s the latest development from a mandate issued by Pres. Joe Biden in September, and it’s expected to be challenged widely in court.

The newly-specified requirements, called the Emergency Temporary Standard by OSHA, applies to businesses with 100 or more employees, and affects 84 million people nationwide.

Robert Johnson, a local resident, is one of the 84 million.  He said that the place where he works has more than 100 employees, and that this mandate protects them.

“If we follow the protocols, we can get rid of this thing quicker, and get back to normal,” he said. 

The mandate also requires that an employer pay unvaccinated workers who for the time they spend getting a COVID vaccine.

As for unvaccinated employees who choose not to get the jab, the new directive requires them to be tested weekly for COVID and to wear a mask at work.

Marc Antony, a vaccinated local resident who said he favors the mandate, said that mask wearing nonetheless can be bothersome.  

“I have a beard,” he said, “so when I have a mask, it’s sweaty and it’s hot.  But it helps other people out, so I don’t see a problem.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio, at his daily briefing on Thursday, was critical of even having the testing and masking option in the federal mandate.

“My message to every CEO,” the mayor said, “[is] full vaccine mandate. Go for the gold here.  It works.”

His own full vaccine mandate for city employees has faced pushback, particularly from firefighters, sanitation workers and police officers.  Still, the mayor pointed out, compliance with the mandate currently has at least 92 percent compliance, and rising.  

The consequence for a municipal employee not complying with the city’s mandate is being placed on leave without pay.  

The penalty for non-compliance with the federal mandate is a $14,000 fine per violation.
The National Retail Federation, which represents stores, shops and boutiques — the second largest private employment sector in the country — has been critical of the mandate. It sent a letter to Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, whose agency oversees OSHA, questioning various aspects of the mandate.

However, Mark Jaffe, president and CEO of the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce called it a helpful measure for business, even though it’s expected to be challenged legally. He said that the mandate responds squarely to a key aspect of commerce.   

“How do we protect the workforce,” Jaffe said. “We’re proud that our state, our city and now our federal leaders are leaning on the side of safety.”

Jaffe said that it’s highly likely that the mandate will get challenged in court.

John Ho, a labor and employment attorney and chair of the OSHA practice at the law firm of Cozen O’Connor, said that the detailed release of the mandate will be out Friday, and once it’s fully analyzed by corporations, “It’s not a question of when, but how many places it’s going to be challenged.” 

The main question that will need to be resolved in court, said Ho, is “Why is COVID a grave danger to only employers with 100 or more [employees]?  What happened in 98? What happened in 95?  That’s certainly going to be part of the legal challenges that they’re going to be facing very shortly.”

Still, he said, even while facing multiple legal disputes, the mandate accomplishes some, and possibly most, of the outcome that OSHA seeks.

“OSHA thinks it can sustain these legal challenges,” Ho said, “I have a little bit of disagreement with that, but putting that aside,” he continued, “if your objective is to get more people vaccinated, this will do it.” 

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