United States Supreme Court Issues Highly Anticipated Rulings on Employer Vaccine Mandates
On January 13, 2022, the United States Supreme Court issued two rulings that were long awaited by employers all over California. At issue were two new regulations: one by the Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the other by the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS).
The OSHA regulation would require all employers with at least 100 employees to ensure their workers received a COVID-19 vaccination or obtained weekly testing. The HHS regulation would require healthcare facilities to ensure their staff members are vaccinated or lose funding from Medicare and Medicaid. In its dual rulings, the Court prevented enforcement of the OSHA regulation and allowed implementation of the HHS rule.
In freezing a lower court opinion that allowed the OSHA regulation to go into effect, the Court held that OSHA exceeded its mandate to protect workplace safety. As noted in the unsigned opinion, “although Congress has indisputably given OSHA the power to regulate occupational dangers, it has not given that agency the power to regulate public health more broadly. Requiring the vaccination of 84 million Americans, selected simply because they work for employers with more than 100 employees, certainly falls in the latter category.”
In the second opinion, the Court allowed enforcement of the more limited HHS regulation. The rule effectively mandates vaccination for 10 million healthcare workers across the country. In the unsigned opinion, the Court said that such a mandate is within the Secretary of HHS’s authority to require a healthcare provider to enforce an “infection prevention and control program designed…to help prevent the development and transmission of communicable diseases and infections.”
It is important to note that both opinions were limited to the issue of whether the federal agencies could enforce their new rules until litigation is complete. In other words, these were not final determinations on whether the rules will be permanent. However, until the courts finish resolving the matters, employers outside the healthcare industry need not enforce vaccine mandates unless a state or local law applies.
Links to the court opinions are below. If you are an employer and have questions about vaccine mandates, please contact one of the experienced employment attorneys at Allen, Glaessner, Hazelwood and Werth, LLP.
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