President Biden Announces Sweeping New COVID-19 Vaccine Requirements

On September 9, 2021, President Biden announced aggressive new measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.  The Biden Administration’s “Path Out of the Pandemic” includes sweeping new vaccination requirements for large private employers, most healthcare employers, and federal contractors.  The Administration’s COVID-19 action plan also includes new screening requirements for large entertainment venues.

Businesses are well-advised to stay abreast of all facets of the plan for implementation of these measures to avoid hefty fines and other penalties for non-compliance.

Private Employers with 100+ Employees

To increase lagging vaccination rates among employees in the private sector, President Biden directed the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to develop an Emergency Testing Standard (ETS) applicable to large private employers with 100 or more employees.  Under the ETS, employees will face a choice: get vaccinated or subject themselves to weekly COVID-19 testing.

The Administration also removed an obstacle to vaccination.  Employers subject to the ETS must provide their employees with paid leave to get vaccinated and to recover from any side effects associated with the vaccine.

Employers that fail to comply with the new vaccination requirement and/or that fail to provide employees with paid time off to get vaccinated or recover from the vaccine will face stiff penalties.  OSHA will be empowered to assess fines of up to $14,000 per violation.

OSHA’s timeframe for implementation of the new ETS remains unclear.  The White House estimates that approximately 80 million employees in the private sector will be covered.

Healthcare Employees

President Biden also directed the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to expand vaccination requirements for America’s healthcare workforce.  As a condition to their continued receipt of CMS funding, hospitals, dialysis facilities, ambulatory surgical settings, and home health agencies will have to require their employees to get vaccinated.  Previously, this requirement had applied only to nursing facilities.

The White House estimates that approximately 50,000 healthcare providers and 17 million healthcare workers will be subject to the new vaccination requirement.

Federal Contractors

President Biden signed an Executive Order requiring vaccination for employees of certain federal contractors.  Previously, the Biden Administration had required federal contractors to disclose their COVID-19 vaccination status and, if unvaccinated, to wear a mask, socially distance, and undergo regular testing.

The new Executive Order eliminates the testing option except for those employees who qualify for a narrow exemption based on their medical condition / disability or sincerely held religious beliefs.  Employees who do not qualify for an exemption / accommodation must get vaccinated during a 75-day “ramp up” period.

 Large Entertainment Venues

Patrons attending events at concert halls, sports stadiums, and other large entertainment venues will be required to produce proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test result at the time of entry.

Contact Jean Harrington if you have questions about how your organization can comply with the new mandates. In the meantime, our Employment Law team will be closely monitoring the rollout of the Biden Administration’s “Path Out of the Pandemic”  and providing regular updates regarding new developments, including the release of OSHA’s highly anticipated ETS.

Read President Biden’s “Path Out of the Pandemic”  here:

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