The White House announced sweeping new COVID-19 vaccine measures Sept. 9, including a requirement that private sector firms with 100 or more employees mandate vaccinations for workers.
Employees who refuse to be vaccinated would be required to undergo weekly coronavirus testing and return a negative test result before being allowed into workplaces.
The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration will issue an Emergency Temporary Standard to implement the rule, expected to impact 80 million private sector workers—two-thirds of the country's workforce.
OSHA’s ETS code allows the agency to enact a rule if “workers are in grave danger due to exposure to toxic substances or agents determined to be toxic or physically harmful or to new hazards.”
The agency is drafting the ETS, which likely will take several weeks. There is no opportunity for public comment—OSHA will solicit comments after the ETS is released before reviewing and releasing the final rule.
“My message to unvaccinated Americans is this, what more is there to wait for? What more do you need to see?” President Joe Biden said Thursday.
“We’ve made vaccinations free, safe and convenient. The vaccine is FDA-approved. Over 200 million Americans have gotten at least one shot. We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin.”
Workers will receive sufficient time to get vaccinated, with employers required to provide paid time off for employee vaccinations and to recover from any side effects. Businesses that fail to comply with the vaccination policy would face fines up to $14,000 per violation.
States with OSHA-approved COVID-19 plans, such as Connecticut, will likely have 30 days to ensure their plans are are at least as effective as the new federal standards.
Biden also signed an executive order requiring that all employees of contractors that do business with the federal government be vaccinated, with no testing option.
CBIA Employer Survey
A recent CBIA survey of Connecticut companies found that businesses are divided on government vaccine mandates, with 52% supportive, 37% opposed, and 11% unsure.
Taken in August, the survey found 24% of companies reported that their workforces were 100% fully vaccinated, with 42% reporting 75%-99% vaccination rates and 17% between 50%-74%.
About 54% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated. Connecticut is among the leading states, with 67% of residents inoculated.
CBIA president and CEO Chris DiPentima said the new federal requirement has already sparked numerous questions from employers.
"The questions we're fielding include who pays for testing, an employer's recourse if an employee refuses the vaccine and testing, compliance time frames, what responsibilities employers have for ensuring compliance, collective bargaining requirements, and OSHA enforcement and penalties," DiPentima said.
"It's critical that OSHA address these questions as quickly as possible to alleviate confusion and allow employers the opportunity to properly prepare.
"Science has shown us that COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective, and the best path to shutting down the coronavirus pandemic, getting people back to work, and rebuilding our economy.
"However, there are real concerns that employers are now being placed in a very difficult position, essentially forced to make what should be personal decisions for their employees.
"Connecticut employers continue to stress the importance of getting vaccinated to their employees—nonetheless, the reported proposed penalties and additional compliance costs for businesses may come across as somewhat misdirected."
Federal, State Workers
The Federal Drug Administration's Aug. 23 full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine opened the door for a growing number of private sector employers—including Connecticut-based Cigna Corp. and Liberty Bank—to mandate employee vaccinations, which the White House encouraged.
Biden's Sept. 9 announcement featured a series of new steps the administration is taking to tackle the pandemic and address vaccination rates, slowing amid a surge in daily coronavirus cases—now at 150,000 with over 1,500 deaths each day.
The president signed an executive order that now requires all federal employees to get vaccinated, with no testing option, impacting 2.1 million federal employees.
The Pentagon issued a vaccination mandate for military personnel last month.
The administration will also require vaccinations for the 17 million workers at healthcare facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement, including nursing homes and home health agencies.
Gov. Ned Lamont last month signed an executive order requiring that all Connecticut state employees get vaccinated by Sept. 27.
That mandate, which allows a testing option for those who refuse the vaccine, also covers teachers in public and private schools, employees of early childhood care providers, and healthcare workers at state hospitals.