Feds to require large employers mandate coronavirus vaccine

Dive Brief:

  • The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is developing a rule implementing a new temporary emergency standard requiring all employers with more than 100 employees to ensure their workforces are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, or require any unvaccinated workers to have a negative test result weekly before coming into work, according to a White House statement.
  • Separately, President Joe Biden will sign Thursday an executive order requiring all federal executive branch workers to get vaccinated, and this standard would be extended to employees of contractors that do business with the federal government.
  • OSHA’s temporary standard also will require covered employers to provide paid time off for the time it takes workers to get vaccinated, or to recover from post-vaccination side effects, the White House said.

Dive Insight:

The Biden administration’s latest push to get workers vaccinated follows a series of appeals to those who are unvaccinated.

The Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the two-dose mRNA vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech gave many employers confidence to implement mandates. After an Aug. 24 press briefing in which he cited the FDA’s decision as a sign that “now is the time” for businesses and other entities to require vaccination, Biden once again referenced the agency’s approval during a televised address Thursday evening.

“My message to unvaccinated Americans is this: what more is there to wait for? What more do you need to see?,” he said. “We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us.”

The share of Americans who have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine topped 61% last week, according to research organization Our World in Data.

“Many of us are frustrated with the nearly 80 million Americans who are still not vaccinated even though the vaccine is safe, effective and free,” Biden said Thursday. “In a country as large as ours, that’s [a] 25% minority. That 25% can cause a lot of damage, and they are.”

A number of employers that would presumably be covered by the rule outlined by the White House have already implemented mandates. The list includes Microsoft and Walmart, among others. Similarly, job postings requiring vaccination against COVID-19 increased by 34% on recruiting service Indeed between the first weeks of July and August.

For the most part, food manufacturers have not required their staff to get vaccinated.

One exception is Tyson Foods, which struck a deal last week with the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union mandating workers to get the vaccine in exchange for a new paid sick leave policy. Meat processor JBS is piloting mandatory vaccination for new hires at some facilities, according to The Wall Street Journal. 

The meat industry was among the hardest hit during the early months of the outbreak, with thousands of workers being infected or exposed to the virus, according to the UFCW. 

Consulting firm Willis Towers Watson found in a mid-August survey of 961 employers that more than half could have some type of vaccination requirement in place by the end of 2021’s fourth quarter.

But not all employers or industries have universally moved to adopt mandates. A report last month by law firm Littler Mendelson found that those in the manufacturing, retail and hospitality industries were least likely to require COVID-19 vaccines, with common concerns including resistance from employees, loss of staff and impacts on culture and morale.

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