On Thursday, President Joe Biden issued two executive orders mandating vaccines for federal workers and contractors and announced new requirements for large employers and health care providers that he said would affect around 100 million workers, more than two-thirds of the U.S. workforce. “We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin,” President Biden said, making a direct appeal to the 80 million people who he said were still unvaccinated. “Your refusal has cost all of us.”
But despite the President’s assurances that the new mandates will boost the economy and save lives, businesses preparing for the new requirements are wondering not only what will be in the new regulations, but how they will be enforced.
The mandates will apply to organizations with at least 100 employees and cover an estimated 80 million workers, and have already drawn threats of lawsuits from two dozen Republican attorneys general and prompted some people to vow to quit their jobs. But the greater challenge for the administration could lie within the agency tasked with ensuring compliance.
President Biden bluntly acknowledges vaccine mandates were not his “first instinct,” but he says they are working like few other things have. One question will forever hang over the pandemic: if he had ordered mandates earlier, would the summer Delta surge have been different?
— Jeff Zeleny (@jeffzeleny) October 7, 2021
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was already handling a broad mission prior to the new rule, which it is expected to issue in a matter of weeks. To stretch its resources, the agency typically prioritizes high-risk industries and targets repeat offenders, and it offers help, in addition to issuing fines, to businesses that are out of compliance.
Keep workers safe:
•Promote #COVID19 vaccines
•Encourage workers to stay home if sick
•Use @EPA-recommended cleaning tools
•Ensure workers have access to handwashing stations or hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol
Get more info at https://t.co/3syWTudHVw pic.twitter.com/Kx0dV4c6OY
— OSHA_DOL (@OSHA_DOL) October 8, 2021
In parts of the country where Covid-related restrictions are unpopular, the vaccination rule could be met with resistance from government officials, businesses, and the public. More than 20 states have workplace safety agencies that cover both the public and private sectors, and some of those agencies occasionally balk at federal rule.
OSHA’s small size relative to its responsibilities means it can’t enforce the rule by deploying a large number of inspectors. The agency will instruct employers to make sure that potentially infectious workers don’t enter the workplace. That includes regular testing, close tracking of worker compliance by businesses, and implementing work-from-home requirements.
Impressive that Biden’s testing mandate is wreaking this much havoc when it doesn’t actually exist yet (OSHA still hasn’t issued the rule) https://t.co/RAvrfAL4AW
— Matt Ford (@fordm) October 11, 2021
If businesses don’t abide by the regulation, OSHA can impose heavy fines, publicize to workers that they can complain if their employer is not complying, and do spot inspections. For the minority of businesses that don’t comply, OSHA could publicize the consequences.