Federal vaccine rule for private businesses kicks in Jan. 4

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Many private employers beginning in January will have to ensure their workers either are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or that they will undergo weekly testing and wear a face covering, under a new federal rule announced by the White House this morning.

The policy from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is set to affect 84 million workers across the U.S. Employers who refuse to comply could face hefty fines.

Final details of the new rule were released almost two months after President Joe Biden announced the vaccination requirement for all private companies with at least 100 employees. 

Other workers also must comply with new vaccination rules.

Another 17 million health care providers at 76,000 facilities participating in the federal Medicare and Medicaid health insurance programs must be vaccinated under a separate policy announced today. Those health care workers will not have the option of weekly tests.

Federal contractors also must ensure their employees are vaccinated, under another rule announced earlier this week. That requirement had been set to kick in Dec. 8, but Thursday’s announcement by the White House stated that all three of the vaccination requirements will go into effect Jan. 4. 

The new OSHA rule will save thousands of lives and prevent hospitalizations, Biden administration officials contend.  

Being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 means receiving both doses of the two-shot vaccine from either Pfizer or Moderna, or getting the one-shot version from Johnson & Johnson. (The booster doses recently approved for some Americans are not required to be considered fully vaccinated.)

The new OSHA rule also requires employers to provide paid time off for workers to get vaccinated and recover from any side effects. That policy, and another requiring unvaccinated workers to wear a face mask, will go into effect Dec. 5. 

Refusing to comply could mean fines for the employer. Federal OSHA officials say the cost would depend on the number and magnitude of any violations, but a single violation could bring a fine of nearly $14,000—and those deemed to be “willful” could cost as much as $136,000.

As employers prepare to comply with the new federal workplace rules, legal battles over the vaccination mandate will be playing out in the court system. 

Read the full story from the Louisiana Illuminator.