US Labor Secretary on OSHA Vaccine Mandate for Private Businesses: 'This Is Not a Mandate'

Susan Jones | November 5, 2021 | 5:32am EDT
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Demonstrators gather outside the Massachusetts State House in Boston to protest COVID-19 vaccination and mask mandates. (Photo by JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images)
Demonstrators gather outside the Massachusetts State House in Boston to protest COVID-19 vaccination and mask mandates. (Photo by JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images)

( - As promised by President Joe Biden, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on Thursday issued an "emergency temporary standard" telling two-thirds of the nation's private-sector workforce what they must do -- or else.

The new rule requires companies with 100 or more employees to "develop, implement and enforce a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy" -- or, a policy that requires workers to be either vaccinated or undergo regular COVID testing. Unvaccinated employees would have to wear a face mask. Employers face hefty fines of $14,000 per violation.

"The nation's unvaccinated workers face grave danger from workplace exposure to coronavirus, and immediate action is necessary to protect them," OSHA said.

"This is not a mandate," Labor Secretary Marty Walsh told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Thursday:

And what this standard is, it's a process of getting people vaccinated. And if people choose not to get vaccinated, they get tested. It's that simple. And we want to make sure that we keep American workers safe in the workplaces.

Some of the folks that aren't coming back to work are still in fear of the virus. And what we want to do is get as many people vaccinated, and people that choose not to get vaccinated, making sure we know that people are safe and not bringing the coronavirus into the workplace.

Blitzer asked how OSHA will enforce what clearly is a mandate:

"OSHA has done this over 50 years, so they certainly have the enforcement mechanism down," Walsh responded:

I have got that question a lot today. I'm not looking at the negative side of this. I'm looking at the positive side. We have seen many companies in America that have brought in a mandate. They have about 85 to 90 percent of their employees getting vaccinated already.

And what we want to do is just encourage people to get vaccinated. If they choose not to get vaccinated, we're asking -- they're going to get tested and then, in the workplace, when they're around other people, are going to wear a mask.

This is not a mandate. It really is about how do we get the American work force safe. President Biden announced this in September, asked OSHA to come back with a standard. We came back with a standard today. And that's -- and that's what we're going to move forward on.

Specifically, the new Emergency Temporary Standard requires employers to do the following:

-- Determine the vaccination status of each employee, obtain acceptable proof of vaccination status from vaccinated employees and maintain records and a roster of each employee's vaccination status.

-- Require employees to provide prompt notice when they test positive for COVID-19 or receive a COVID-19 diagnosis. Employers must then remove the employee from the workplace, regardless of vaccination status; employers must not allow them to return to work until they meet required criteria.

-- Ensure each worker who is not fully vaccinated is tested for COVID-19 at least weekly (if the worker is in the workplace at least once a week) or within 7 days before returning to work (if the worker is away from the workplace for a week or longer).

-- Ensure that, in most circumstances, each employee who has not been fully vaccinated wears a face covering when indoors or when occupying a vehicle with another person for work purposes.

The emergency temporary standard does not require employers to pay for testing or face masks.

The vaccine mandate for private businesses takes effect on January 4, 2022, as does the mandate announced on Thursday for employees of health care facilities that treat Medicare or Medicaid patients.

Earlier vaccine mandates announced by President Biden apply to the U.S. military, the federal work force, and federal contractors.

A number of states already are suing to block the vaccination mandate for federal contractors. More states will sue over the OSHA mandate for private businesses.

And meanwhile, an unknown number of Americans, including law enforcement and health care workers, are quitting their jobs rather than undergo forced vaccination -- some of those mandates imposed by state governments.

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