In-Depth: Biden administration reveals details of federal vaccine mandate affecting 84 million workers

Posted at 6:27 PM, Nov 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-04 23:46:09-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- Companies with 100 employees or more have until Jan. 4 to get their workers immunized or test them weekly under new emergency labor rules from the Biden Administration.

The requirements will affect more than 84 million private-sector workers. The emergency temporary standards let businesses decide whether to offer their employees the option to forgo vaccination through weekly testing.

Unvaccinated workers must wear masks indoors and in company vehicles, and the rules define what types of masks are acceptable.

The administration announced Thursday that another 17 million people working in healthcare need to be vaccinated by Jan. 4. Those workers do not have the option to undergo testing as a substitute.

Hundreds of pages of documents published Thursday from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration reveal many previously unknown details about the rules. The agency also released a long list of common questions and answers.

Employers can choose to apply different standards to different sets of employees. For example, a company could require retail employees working with the public to get vaccinated without the option for testing while offering weekly testing to workers in its corporate offices.

The OSHA rules also carve out an important distinction: they do not apply to employees who work entirely remotely or entirely outdoors. Those workers do not have to be vaccinated or tested. If they visit the workplace, they must provide a negative test taken less than one week prior.

UC Hastings law professor Dorit Reiss says the indoor-outdoor difference has to do with OSHA’s legal authority. The agency can only impose emergency standards on issues where workers are in “grave danger.”

“OSHA is saying we have really good evidence that COVID-19 is a grave danger to people in indoor places. We don’t have the same kind of evidence that it’s a great danger to people working remotely, not working with other employees, or working outside,” she said.

Companies must offer up to four hours of paid time off to get the shot and sick leave if the employee experiences side effects. However, the federal rules say companies do not have to pay for the masks and testing for workers who refuse the shots, although state or local rules might compel such payments.

Employees previously infected with COVID must abide by the same vaccination rules as everyone else.

Reiss said that the standards do not say much about medical and religious exemptions to vaccination, just that companies must offer them.

Businesses have until Dec. 5 to ensure vaccinated workers are masked up. Jan. 4 is the deadline to get employees fully vaccinated or tested.

At the moment, booster shots are not required.

Companies that break the rules could be fined $14,000 per employee per violation.