- The Labor Department said that it would delay its vaccine-or-testing rule for large businesses until Feb. 9.
- The Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit on Friday ruled that the mandate could stand.
- Twenty-seven business groups quickly filed an appeal with the US Supreme Court to block the rule.
The Biden administration will give employers additional time to abide by a federal requirement that workers get vaccinated against COVID-19 or be subject to testing after a federal court reinstated the rule.
In a statement issued on Saturday, the Department of Labor granted the extension after the Ohio-based US Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit on Friday allowed the requirement to proceed. A three-judge panel ruled that the OSHA requirement was within the agency's purview.
"The record establishes that Covid-19 has continued to spread, mutate, kill and block the safe return of American workers to their jobs," wrote Judge Jane B. Stranch. "To protect workers, OSHA can and must be able to respond to dangers as they evolve."
According to the department, employees who haven't been fully vaccinated won't have to adhere to the requirement until February 9 — more than four weeks after the initial January 4 deadline.
The Labor Department in a statement said that no "citations for noncompliance" will be issued before February 9 for testing rules "so long as an employer is exercising reasonable, good faith efforts to come into compliance with the standard."
In the Biden mandate — which would affect 80 million individuals — private business that employed at least 100 people were to have ascertained the vaccination status of all workers and mandated that unvaccinated staffers wear face coverings by a December 6 deadline.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the workplace-safety agency overseeing the implementation of the rule, lauded the court's decision.
"OSHA is gratified the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit dissolved the Fifth Circuit's stay of the Vaccination and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard," per the agency's statement. "OSHA can now once again implement this vital workplace health standard, which will protect the health of workers by mitigating the spread of the unprecedented virus in the workplace."
Several GOP-led states have challenged the vaccine rule — arguing that it it exceeds the authority of OSHA — but the court on Friday disputed that argument.
"The claim that COVID-19 exists outside the workplace and thus is not a grave danger in the workplace is equally unavailing. As discussed above, OSHA routinely regulates hazards that exist both inside and outside the workplace," Stranch wrote. "More to the point, OSHA here demonstrated with substantial evidence that the nature of the workplace — commonplace across the country and in virtually every industry — presents a heightened risk of exposure."
David Michaels, an assistant secretary of labor for OSHA during the Obama administration and an epidemiologist at the George Washington University School of Public Health, told USA Today that the spread of the omicron variant should push employers to "ramp up workplace protections as quickly as possible."
A coalition of twenty-seven business groups quickly responded to the court's decision on Friday, filing an appeal with the US Supreme Court to block the vaccine requirement.
"It will impose substantial, nonrecoverable compliance costs on those businesses. Those businesses will be faced with either incurring the costs of testing for the millions of employees who refuse to be vaccinated — and passing those costs on to consumers in the form of yet higher prices at a time of record inflation — or imposing the costs of testing upon their unvaccinated employees, who will quit en masse rather than suffer additional testing costs each week," the appeal says.
As of December 17, more than 806,000 people have died of the coronavirus in the US, with nearly 50.8 million confirmed cases, according to Johns Hopkins University.