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Supreme Court Blocks Broad OSHA Vaccine Mandate, Allows Requirement for Health Care Workers to Take Effect

The Supreme Court blocked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s broad workplace vaccine rules for businesses, but allowed the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ mandate for health care workers to move forward, according to The Wall Street Journal (subscription).

The background: Through a series of actions, including executive orders and agency rulemakings, the Biden administration had sought to impose workplace-focused vaccination rules designed to combat the pandemic.

  • One policy, implemented through OSHA, would require businesses with 100 or more workers to implement a vaccination requirement for their employees or impose a masking and weekly testing regimen.
  • A separate policy would apply to most health care workers at facilities that receive funds from Medicaid or Medicare.
  • A third federal vaccine rule, mandating vaccination for federal contractors, is currently stayed by a federal court in Georgia, while a challenge to its validity goes forward. Lower courts had been split on whether the requirements should be put on hold or allowed to go into effect.

The result: The Supreme Court provided two different decisions on the OSHA and health care worker mandates, with implications for businesses and health care workers nationwide.

  • OSHA rule: A majority of the Supreme Court found that OSHA likely did not have the authority to impose a broad workplace vaccine or test mandate in response to a widespread public health threat that is not workplace specific.
  • Health care employees: A majority of the Supreme Court found, however, that the vaccine requirement for health care workers at facilities that receive specific kinds of federal funding could go into effect.

Our take: According to NAM Chief Legal Officer Linda Kelly, the Supreme Court’s decision on the OSHA rule ultimately centered on the breadth of OSHA’s requirement, finding that the rule exceeded the agency’s authority by seeking to regulate public health generally versus focusing on a specific workplace threat. Though technically the ruling has the effect of only staying the rule, rather than invalidating it, given the thorough discussion of the rule’s merits in the court’s opinion, it is unlikely that OSHA will continue to push for this broad rule. The health care rule survived because it is more targeted and tied to federal funding.

A word from the NAM: “Today’s ruling does not change the fact that getting vaccinated is the best defense against COVID-19 and central to our ability to keep businesses and schools open and prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed,” said NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons. “Manufacturers believe strongly in getting our teams armed against COVID-19, and we appreciate the administration’s sustained focus on making vaccines accessible to every American.”

  • “We call on all Americans to make the choice to get vaccinated, get boosted when eligible and wear the appropriate mask in public places—so that we can save lives, protect our economy and get through this latest wave of infection. We must all do our part, so join us in rolling up your sleeves and moving forward together toward brighter, healthier, more prosperous days.”

Get vaxxed: For tools and information about how vaccines can protect you and the people around you, check out This Is Our Shot—a collaboration between the NAM and The Manufacturing Institute. 

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