• The San Juan Daily Star

Labor Department extends deadline for companies to mandate vaccines

By Lauren Hirsh and Emma Goldberg

The Labor Department said on Saturday that it would delay until Feb. 9 the deadline for full enforcement of its rule requiring large companies to have their workers get coronavirus vaccines or be tested weekly, after weeks of legal battles created uncertainty and confusion for employers.

The department’s move came a day after a federal appeals panel reinstated the Biden administration’s rule requiring that companies with at least 100 employees mandate their workers be vaccinated against the coronavirus or face weekly testing by Jan. 4. The rule had also mandated that those employers require masks for unvaccinated workers by Dec. 5.

The decision on Friday, by a split three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, overturned a ruling by its counterpart in New Orleans, the 5th Circuit, that had blocked the rule last month.

The government had argued that its vaccine mandate was well within the authority of the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, to pass an emergency temporary standard, so long as it could show that workers were exposed to a “grave danger” and that the rule was necessary.

The Labor Department said in a statement that it would “not issue citations for noncompliance” with any requirements of the rule before Jan. 10. It said it would not issue citations for noncompliance with the standard’s testing requirements before Feb. 9, “so long as an employer is exercising reasonable, good faith efforts to come into compliance with the standard.”

While the Biden administration has encouraged companies to move forward with carrying out the rule despite the legal uncertainty, many have held off until the matter has been fully addressed by the court. Trade groups, including the National Retail Federation, have pushed for a delay in the requirements.

Companies that fail to comply with the rule may be fined. An OSHA penalty is typically $13,653 for every serious violation, but can be up to 10 times that amount if OSHA determines that the violation is willful or repeated. OSHA has a whistleblower system that allows workers to report violations of its rules, though labor lawyers said that it has historically tended to not have enough inspectors.

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