The Oklahoman

What you should know about Biden’s vaccine mandate

- Dale Denwalt

President Joe Biden has announced new rules mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for federal workers and companies with more than 100 employees.

His plan lays out a “six-pronged strategy” focused on vaccine mandates, increasing school safety protocols and making coronaviru­s testing more accessible. It was a tacit acknowledg­ment that efforts have fallen short of his campaign promise to bring the pandemic under control.

“Many of us are frustrated with the nearly 80 million Americans who are still not vaccinated,” Biden said. “This is not about freedom from personal choice, it’s about protecting yourself and those around you.”

Biden’s plan is raising a number of questions ranging from the legality of the mandate to the practical implementa­tion. Here’s what we know right now.

Can the president do this?

Multiple states, including Oklahoma, intend to pursue legal action to block the implementa­tion of the mandate. After Biden’s announceme­nt, Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor began working on a legal challenge to the emergency rules.

“My office will vigorously oppose any attempt by the federal government to mandate vaccines,” he said Thursday, adding, “we respect the right of Oklahoma businesses and individual­s to make healthcare decisions for themselves and their families. We are preparing litigation to stand up for our rights and defend the rule of law against the overreach of the federal government.”

Adam Childers, the co-chair of Crowe & Dunlevy’s Labor & Employment Practice Group, said he is certain the issue will land before the U.S. Supreme Court soon.

“The only certainty I have is that a judge will immediatel­y block the rule from taking effect, sending it quickly to Supreme Court justices,” where its legality will be debated, Childers said.

How will it be implemente­d?

The Department of Labor’s Occupation­al Safety and Health Administra­tion will develop a rule requiring businesses with 100 or more employees to mandate vaccinatio­ns or subject employees to weekly testing.

Biden also signed executive orders mandating the vaccine for executive branch employees. The order includes limited exceptions for medical or religious reasons, but USA Today reported that any federal worker who refuses to comply could face disciplina­ry action.

Some federal health workers, including those who work for the Veterans Affairs Department, already must get vaccinated. Members of the U.S. military are also required to have a dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

Does it apply to federal contractor­s?

Yes. The White House said that along with executive branch employees, which covers about 90% of the federal workforce, businesses that contract with the government must also require their employees be vaccinated.

Before now, civilian federal employees and contractor­s only had to reveal their vaccinatio­n status and, if not inoculated, get tested regularly, socially distance, wear masks and be subject to restrictio­ns on most work travel.

Are tribes exempt?

The mandate applies to employees of the Indian Health Services, a federal agency. But when it comes to tribalowne­d businesses, the answers are murky. Many tribes also own businesses that contract with the federal government, which could lump them in with that requiremen­t.

What’s the timeline?

Because it requires federal agency rule-making, the mandate on large business could take time to develop.

It was unclear when the requiremen­ts would take effect. OSHA is expected to issue the rule “in the coming weeks,” the White House said, and implementa­tion could follow a timeline similar to those in the public and private sectors. In some cases, those have ranged from weeks to months.

The exact time frame will be dependent on the rule-making process.

What happens if a business doesn’t comply?

Biden’s pathway to enforce the mandate is through the Occupation­al Safety and Health Administra­tion, which can require businesses and large companies to put safety regulation­s in place to ensure the health and security of the people who work at a given company.

If employees aren’t vaccinated, they must be tested weekly for the virus.

Companies that don’t comply may face a $14,000 fine from OSHA.

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