OSHA formally withdrawing COVID-19 workplace shot-or-test mandate

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced Tuesday that it’s withdrawing its COVID-19 shot-or-test rule for workers at large companies.

In comes in wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s move earlier this month to block the rule, stopping a push by the Biden administration to boost the nation’s vaccination rate.

The emergency standard was issued on Nov. 5, 2021, to protected unvaccinated employees of large employers with 100 or more employees from workplace exposure to the virus. The withdrawal is effective Wednesday.

“Although OSHA is withdrawing the vaccination and testing ETS (Emergency Temporary Standard) as an enforceable emergency temporary standard, the agency is not withdrawing the ETS as a proposed rule. The agency is prioritizing its resources to focus on finalizing a permanent COVID-19 Healthcare Standard. OSHA strongly encourages vaccination of workers against the continuing dangers posed by COVID-19 in the workplace,” OSHA writes in a statement.

The rule would have affected some 80 million people. There would’ve been exceptions for people with religious objections.

“It’s going to be up to the employers, whether or not they decide to rehire people that were terminated, based on their in their implementation of the OSHA rule,” explained attorney James Poindexter, who specializes in employment law. “Certainly, those employees don’t have an at-will employment state, such as the state of Florida, they don’t have a right to come back to work. Their employer doesn’t have an obligation to rehire them. But that’s going to be on a case-by-case basis.

U.S. corporations have been split over whether to mandate employee vaccinations. United Airlines began requiring vaccines in August, and the company has said 99% of its workers are vaccinated or requested an exemption.

Other big businesses, like Starbucks and General Electric, scrapped previously announced mandates for employees after the Supreme Court’s ruling.

“I don’t see any liability that an employer would have, especially given the fact that it was relying in good faith on a federal rule coming out of OSHA that was in place. The fact that it was ultimately overturned, I don’t think creates a cause of action for employees to sue for their termination based on their failure or refusal to get vaccinated,” Poindexter said.

At the same time, the court is allowing the administration to proceed with a vaccine mandate for most health care workers in the U.S.

Florida Blue released a statement that reads: “As a federal contractor, Florida Blue falls under the federal contractor COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which is separate from the OSHA mandate for large employers. The mandate for federal contractors is currently stayed and working its way through the courts. We are monitoring the cases and will comply if the courts lift the stay.”

About the Author:

Brie Isom joined the News4JAX team in January 2021 after spending three years covering news in South Bend, Indiana.