Business advocates hailed Thursday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that halted President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for larger employers.
The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that Congress has not given the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) the authority to impose the mandate on employers through an emergency temporary standard, or ETS.
“We strongly support the United States Supreme Court’s decision to block the federal vaccine or test mandate on employers with 100 or more employees,” the Michigan Chamber of Commerce said in a statement posted online. “The court fully acknowledged the sweeping and disruptive nature of OSHA’s vaccine mandate and the numerous complexities associated with its implementation. We will continue to encourage vaccines and the necessity of maintaining thoughtful safety protocols in the workplace.”
The Michigan Chamber was part of a coalition of business groups known as Listen to Michigan Business that opposed the proposed mandate, which Biden issued in September and would have required a COVID-19 vaccine or weekly testing for COVID-19 among employees at companies with 100 workers or more — roughly two-thirds of the U.S. workforce. Ruling on a lawsuit filed against OSHA, a lower court had earlier issued a stay that kept the mandate from taking effect, which an appeals court later set aside, setting up an appeal to the Supreme Court.
“Permitting OSHA to regulate the hazards of daily life — simply because most Americans have jobs and face those same risks while on the clock — would significantly expand OSHA’s regulatory authority without clear congressional authorization,” states the Supreme Court’s order. “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.”
The Supreme Court ruling “is not a final decision on the legal challenges to the mandate, but it prevents the OSHA ETS from going into effect while the case proceeds,” attorneys at law firm Mika Meyers PLC wrote in an afternoon alert to clients.
The ruling still should bring a “sense of relief” for employers who would have been covered by the mandate, said Andy Johnston, vice president of government affairs at the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.
“What we read in the opinion acknowledges the sweeping and disruptive nature of OSHA’s vaccine mandate and the complexities that it included,” Johnston said in an interview. “Employers should be feeling some relief that this complicated mandate that was going to put job providers in an incredibly difficult position, especially during a time when they were having to manage significant talent and supply chain issues, they should be feeling a sense of relief.”
Despite the opposition to the mandate, the Grand Rapids Chamber appreciates the “attempt of what they were trying to accomplish, but this was not the way to do it,” Johnston said.
In staying the emergency temporary standard, the Supreme Court “determined that while COVID-19 is a risk that occurs in many workplaces, it is not an ‘occupational hazard’ that can be regulated in this manner by OSHA,” law firm Warner Norcross + Judd LLP told clients in an email alert. “While this does not permanently end the dispute, it frees employers from the current compliance deadlines and signals that future implementation of the rule is unlikely. “
The Supreme Court did uphold a vaccine mandate for health care providers that receive Medicare and Medicaid funds.
That ruling means that “a facility’s failure to comply may lead to monetary penalties, denial of payment for new admissions and ultimately termination of participation in the programs,” Warner Norcross + Judd attorneys wrote.
Prior to the federal mandate, “the number of hospital staff that failed to comply with a Michigan hospital’s existing vaccine requirement represented a very small percentage of all hospital staff and had not played a significant role in the healthcare staffing shortage, which started long before the pandemic because of other factors,” the Michigan Health & Hospital Association said in a statement. “However, the timing of this decision by the Supreme Court is extremely challenging. Asking hospitals to implement a new policy to fully comply with the rule at a time when resources are scarce would be difficult no matter the focus. However, our members have followed the legal proceedings and are prepared to comply with the policy.”