On Jan. 13, 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled to stay the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) vaccination and testing emergency temporary standard (ETS). The ETS was developed to establish a mandatory vaccination policy requirement for private employers with 100 or more employees.
The ETS went into effect on and has been in litigation since Nov. 5, 2021. It was blocked by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals early on but was reinstated by the 6th Circuit on Dec. 17, 2021.
Employers are not required to comply with the OSHA ETS vaccination and testing mandate at this time.
In its published decision, SCOTUS stated that OSHA was not given the power to regulate public health more broadly than occupational dangers. In addition, SCOTUS explained that challenges to the ETS were likely to succeed on the merits because the agency lacks the authority to impose the mandate. Specifically, the OSH Act only allows the agency to set workplace safety standards, not broad public health measures.
Finally, the court argues that the requirement that employees either become vaccinated or undergo weekly testing is not an exercise of federal power. Instead, SCOTUS stated the ETS represents a “significant encroachment into the lives—and health—of a vast number of employees.”
Impact on Employers
Given this new stay, employers are not required to comply with the OSHA ETS vaccination and testing mandate at this time. However, because the case has been sent back to the 6th Circuit, employers will need to continue monitoring legal developments to learn about a final decision on the ETS.
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This Probably Does Not Apply to Healthcare Workers
The CMS rule applies to Medicare- and Medicaid-certified provider and supplier types that are regulated under the Medicare health and safety standards, including hospitals, clinics and long-term care facilities. In light of the Supreme Court’s ruling, it is likely that CMS will resume enforcement of the emergency rule.
These facilities must establish a policy ensuring that all eligible staff are vaccinated against COVID-19. Under the rule’s planned timeline, staff members had to receive the first dose of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine or a one-dose COVID-19 vaccine prior to providing any care, treatment or other services by Dec. 6, 2021, and the necessary shots to be fully vaccinated—either two doses of Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna or one dose of Johnson & Johnson—by Jan. 4, 2022.
The regulation provides for exemptions based on recognized medical conditions or religious beliefs. However, there is no weekly testing exception for unvaccinated workers.
Impact on Healthcare Employers
In light of the Supreme Court’s ruling, it is likely that CMS will resume enforcement of the vaccination emergency rule. As a result, affected health care facilities that have not already implemented a vaccination policy should establish a policy requiring staff to be COVID-19 vaccinated as soon as possible. In addition, affected health care facilities should implement procedures to determine and document workers’ vaccination status.