A trade group representing some 2,000 consumer brands sent a letter to President Biden on Monday asking for clarification about his announcement last week that all companies with more than 100 employees will soon need to require vaccination or weekly testing.
Mr. Biden said last week that the Department of Labor and its Occupational Safety and Health Administration would draft the rules, which would affect some 80 million workers.
But the mandate has raised vexing issues for employers as they deal with the practicalities of vaccination policies, said Geoff Freeman, the president of the trade group, the Consumer Brands Association.
On Monday, Mr. Freeman called on Mr. Biden to “create immediate clarity” about how private businesses should carry out aspects of the White House’s plan to achieve “our shared goal of increased vaccination rates.”
He shared 19 questions that represented a “small sampling” of those raised by the trade group’s members. Among them:
What proof-of-vaccination documentation will the companies need to collect, and will booster shots also be required?
Must employees be fully vaccinated?
Will workers who have had the coronavirus still have to be vaccinated or get tested?
Will the requirements apply only to vaccines that are fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration? (The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is currently the only shot with full approval.)
Who is responsible for vaccination tracking — the government or the individual businesses?
What are the consequences of falsifying a vaccination status?
Other questions, on testing and other policy details, covered similar ground, touching on how federal guidelines interact with state-level initiatives, who will be responsible for paying for testing and whether waivers would be allowed if employee absences or attrition resulted in supply chain disruptions.
Also of concern, Mr. Freeman said in an interview, is the slow pace at which government tends to move, compared with the quick decisions that private businesses are used to making. This has been a problem during the pandemic, he said.
“For 19 months, we’ve been working with either the Trump administration or the Biden administration and all of the agencies involved in this,” he said. “And the simple truth is that they have been slow to keep up with the pace of change.”
He added: “All of us want to get to the other side of this thing as quickly as possible. It’s not going to work in this scenario unless an entity like OSHA can move at the pace of the business environment.”
Major business trade groups have generally been supportive of the mandate, which gives otherwise wary businesses the cover to require inoculation.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest business lobbying group, has said it “will work to ensure that employers have the resources, guidance and flexibility necessary to ensure the safety of their employees and customers and comply with public health requirements.” Another major business advocacy group, the Business Roundtable, has said it “welcomes” the Biden administration’s actions.
Understand Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the U.S.
- Vaccine rules. On Aug. 23, the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and up, paving the way for an increase in mandates in both the public and private sectors. Private companies have been increasingly mandating vaccines for employees. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
- Mask rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July recommended that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places within areas experiencing outbreaks, a reversal of the guidance it offered in May. See where the C.D.C. guidance would apply, and where states have instituted their own mask policies. The battle over masks has become contentious in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
- College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.
- Schools. Both California and New York City have introduced vaccine mandates for education staff. A survey released in August found that many American parents of school-age children are opposed to mandated vaccines for students, but were more supportive of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff members who do not have their shots.
- Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get a Covid-19 vaccine, citing rising caseloads fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their work force.
- New York City. Proof of vaccination is required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations, although enforcement does not begin until Sept. 13. Teachers and other education workers in the city’s vast school system will need to have at least one vaccine dose by Sept. 27, without the option of weekly testing. City hospital workers must also get a vaccine or be subjected to weekly testing. Similar rules are in place for New York State employees.
- At the federal level. The Pentagon announced that it would seek to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops “no later” than the middle of September. President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees would have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.
But they have also been racing to understand the details and implications, which can vary depending on a company’s size. Does a company’s worker count include part-time employees? What is the deadline for compliance? Will potential lawsuits slow the process down?
The White House has said it will provide more guidance by Sept. 24.
At this point, “there are more questions than answers,” said Ian Schaefer, a partner at the law firm Loeb & Loeb who specializes in labor issues.
Even as companies are calling their lobbyists and lawyers for more insight, many are discussing at a senior level the realities of putting a mandate in place, despite not yet knowing exactly what that might entail, he said.
“In the absence of actionable intelligence that gives a little bit more guidance and direction, I think they’re sort of controlling for what they can control, which is a lot of internal politics at this point,” Mr. Schaefer said.