As expected, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released rules last week implementing the federal mandate for vaccinations announced by President Biden on September 9. OSHA’s rules require that employees at businesses with 100 or more workers be vaccinated by January 4, 2022, or provide weekly proof of a negative Covid-19 test. Significantly, OSHA’s rules do not take effect until after the upcoming holiday season.
More than half of the states quickly challenged the OSHA rule, which were temporarily enjoined from implementation pending further legal review. The federal courts are expected to act on an expedited time frame.
The Washington Retail Association (WR) believes that vaccination is a vital tool for moving beyond the pandemic. However, WR is concerned that placing private employers in the position of enforcing mandates which may conflict with employees’ personal health choices is an overreach.
In Washington, OSHA’s rules are not enforceable until Washington’s Department of Safety and Health (DOSH) issues emergency rules to implement the federal standards. The State’s rule must be equivalent to, or more protective, than the federal guidance. The State could opt to impose the mandate on employers with fewer than 100 employees and eliminate the option for testing.
In anticipation of OSHA’s rules, WR President and CEO Renee’ Sunde wrote Governor Inslee urging the State to not deviate from OSHA’s standards. WR’s letter cited three data points from the Department of Health:
- COVID-19 case counts have plummeted by more than 58% in Washington, far exceeding federal case count trends since President Biden announced the vaccination mandate. Modeling suggests the trend will continue a similar trajectory.
- 6% of Washingtonians have received at least one dose of vaccine, and more than 72% of residents are fully vaccinated. Vaccination rates will increase with the recent approvals of vaccines for children under 12.
- Retailers’ efforts (masking, social distancing, and sanitation) have proven effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
WR is pleased the OSHA rules will assist consumers, small and large retailers, and workers during the critical 2021 holiday season and urges Washington State to adhere to that timeline.
Nonetheless, WR is deeply concerned with requiring employers to mandate personal health decisions on their employees and urges Washington State to move on a path that is least intrusive to employers and employees by aligning new state rules with OSHA’s guidance.