New and Complete Review of Vaccine Mandate

President Biden recently announced that there would be a vaccine mandate for any businesses that employ over 100 people. If applicable businesses don’t want to abide by this rule, they’re permitted to institute a weekly regiment of COVID tests for all employees.

Side-stepping anything political, I’m going to take some time today to discuss the specifics of what President Biden’s press conference actually means for business owners on the ground. Who is really affected, who’s enforcing this new mandate, and what the results are likely to be when all is said and done. 

Let’s start from the top with the recent press conference.

What is the Latest News About the Vaccine Mandate?

On September 8th, 2021, President Biden held a press conference in which he vigorously rallied against the failures of full vaccination and announced a six-pronged action plan. This plan details a number of measures that will be taken to win in the fight against COVID.

While it’s a “six-pronged” action plan as noted on the official White House website, it’s really broader than that, as each prong has at least two, and sometimes up to six points of action. 

What Does President Biden’s New Vaccine Mandate Require?

Business owners with over 100 employees must require their workers to get vaccinated or test them for COVID on a weekly basis. Additionally, employers must provide their workers paid time off so that they are able to get themselves or their family members vaccinated without taking a financial loss in the process.  

For many businesses and organizations, this is not pertinent news. Some health care workers, and some federal employees had already been required to get a vaccine prior to this announcement. Now it’s been extended to all health care workers, the entire executive branch, as well as federal contractors.

Beyond that, many businesses had already required their employees to get vaccinated prior to any sort of government mandate. Walmart, UPS, and other large companies have already instituted mandatory vaccination for their office employees.

Some things that are new:

  • Requiring large venues (sporting and performance events) to check attendees’ vaccination record
  • Calling all states’ education departments to mandate vaccines for educational institutions
  • Doubling TSA fines for travelers who refuse to wear a mask
  • Increased production of monoclonal antibodies
  • Introduction of monoclonal strike teams via the DOD, HHS, and FEMA to assist the healthcare systems 

In addition to those specifics are some points that echo the COVID speeches of recent years:

  • Anyone can get an at-home test that wants one for free via food banks and community health centers (a total of 25 million tests) 
  • Walmart, Kroger, and Amazon will be selling tests at cost for the next three months 
  • 10,000 pharmacies will become free-testing sites 
  • The Defense Production Act will be used to accelerate the production of tests for use now and in the future

Better care! More testing! Better access to more testing and better care! Quicker, better access to more testing and better care!

It’s not really saying anything new that the government is trying to make it easier to get treatment and prevention to people that want and need it, but it often fails to materialize as easily or as quickly as it seems it will in well written speeches. 

There are many points that were touched on in the President’s presentation and accompanying document. I highly suggest you check it out if you want a word for word understanding of the plan.

When is the New Mandate Going to Be Enforced?

It’s expected that it will take up to three weeks for OSHA to sort out the paperwork. It will then be an additional three weeks of time that OSHA gives employers to come into compliance with the new mandate. It’s a safe bet to say that mid to late October is when employers will really have to be up to par.

What Agency Will Enforce the New Vaccine Mandate?

OSHA (Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration) is to be tasked with enforcing the mandate announced by President Biden. This is traditionally not their department of expertise, however it’s not a total stretch, OSHA is in charge of handling workplace safety.

Although not a healthcare related administration, OSHA has been involved with requiring employers to offer a Hepatitis B vaccine to employees likely to come in contact with blood over the course of their work. That said, this is still a big jump.

Keep in mind, OSHA won’t really be doing much to help the actual vaccination process, they’re just the arm of enforcement that will fine businesses that fail to comply with the mandate. 

The legal mechanism to be used by OSHA is something called an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS). This was used by OSHA in June of this year when health care workers were mandated to get the vaccine, and now will be used again for the broader mandate.

Think of this as an executive order of sorts, used during periods where the threat to public health is deemed to warrant extraordinary measures. 

What Are the Penalties for Violating the Vaccine Mandate

It remains unclear what the specific fines or fees will be for those who violate the vaccine mandate. The White House announced that penalties could reach as high as 14k per violation, although I read that FL says 5k per employee, and yet another in NYC that starts with a warning and creeps up to 5k after multiple violations.

It’s most accurate to say that this is an answer that is currently being formulated at a variety of federal, state, city, and local levels. I’d be skeptical of anyone that says they know what the fine will be for certain. Suffice it to say, whatever the fine, it’s not going to be cheap. 

The hope is that businesses will not be slammed with fines for failing to live up to the letter of the law. I assume that most people, and elected officials, aren’t in the business of ruining businesses because they couldn’t tie off some loose ends in terms of logistics.

Do Business Owners Have to Pay for Weekly Testing if their Employees Don’t Want to Get Vaccinated? Who’s Paying the PTO Required for Vaccination? How Are Vaccination Records Supposed to be Kept?

These are the million-dollar questions, and they remain to be answered; if you’re concerned about costs, implementation, and documentation, you’re not alone. The broad strokes have been painted, but the details that affect business owners still lack the clarity that business people need to make decisions.

These questions were front and center in a recent New York Times article, and their article was pretty much a list of questions and concerns held by business owners across the country.

I really hate to make this the answer I’m giving you, but it’s where the situation stands at the moment. 

What is the Current Public Sentiment on the Vaccine Mandate?

A recent Marist poll on vaccine mandates for those returning to work is 50% to 44% in favor of a mandate. Additionally, 79% of the public either has or intends to get fully vaccinated. This indicates that the level of support for vaccines is notably higher than the level of support for forcing anyone to get vaccinated

Many Republican governors have rallied against President Biden’s plan and have announced that they will be suing the federal government in response to its actions. 

Are there Any Other Focuses of Biden’s Vaccine Mandate?

The EIDL and PPP program are both being beefed up to provide greater financial assistance to business owners in need. The EIDL will be increased in scope, while the forgiveness process for the PPP will be simplified. This will give help to business owners trying to access funds as well as those trying to reduce debt.

What Does This All Mean?

It means that many business owners are going to have to take some time, at the very least, to figure out how to abide by these new regulations. It’s a huge unanswered question as to who is responsible for paying for things that will cost money, and I promise this is something we will keep our finger on the pulse of in the coming weeks and months.