Biden Announces Widespread Vaccine Mandates

Author: Emily Scace, XpertHR Legal Editor

September 9, 2021

President Biden announced a new comprehensive national strategy to combat COVID-19 that will rely in part on widespread vaccine mandates for many employers.

According to the plan, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will issue an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) that will require all employers with 100 or more employees to ensure that their workforce is fully vaccinated, with weekly negative COVID-19 tests required for any unvaccinated employees. This requirement is expected to affect over 80 million private sector employees.

OSHA's ETS will require employers covered under the vaccination requirement to provide paid time off for employees to get vaccinated and recover from any post-vaccination side effects. It is uncertain when OSHA's ETS will be released and what the compliance deadlines will be.

Federal executive branch workers and employees of contractors that do business with the federal government will also be covered under a vaccine mandate, as will employees at most health care settings that receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement.

The mandate for federal workers, implemented by executive order, does not contain a testing alternative.

The widespread mandates will relieve affected employers of the burden of deciding whether to require vaccination for their workforce - a controversial issue that has been the subject of much debate. Since the full approval of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, announced on August 23, more employers appear to have seriously considered vaccination mandates or strong incentives.

However, some states, such as Montana and Texas, have enacted laws limiting employers' ability to mandate vaccines for their staff. Others have taken the opposite approach, requiring state employees and certain others, such as health care or school employees, to be vaccinated against COVID-19.