U.S. Supreme Court Blocks Federal Vaccine Mandate for Private Employers with at Least 100 Employees

On January 13, 2022, a 6-3 majority comprised of the conservative members of the United States Supreme Court blocked enforcement of the Biden administration’s sweeping efforts, via OSHA, to mandate COVID-19 vaccines of employees of large private employers.  The Court’s conservative majority held that while OSHA was empowered to regulate workplace safety, OSHA was not empowered to enforce such a sweeping mandate on employees of such private employers.

However, in a separate 5-4 decision, the Court allowed for a more narrow vaccine mandate, aimed at employees of healthcare companies receiving federal funds in connection with Medicare and Medicaid.  Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined the Court’s liberal minority in approving the Biden administration’s goal of ensuring healthcare workers are vaccinated.

In a written statement the Biden administration responded to the rulings by emphasizing that when the mandates were originally issued, in the summer of 2021, more than 90 million eligible Americans remained unvaccinated, but that at the time of the Court’s rulings, the number was down to under 35 million.  “Had my administration not put vaccination requirements in place, we would be now experiencing a higher death toll from COVID-19 and even more hospitalizations,” President Biden remarked.  He emphasized that the decision supporting the healthcare worker vaccine mandate, which applies to more than 10 million workers, “will save lives,” and promised to enforce it. With respect to private employers, President Biden pointed out that while the conservative majority of the Court blocked OSHA from enforcing a federal mandate, “it is now up to States and individual employers to determine whether to make their workplaces as safe as possible for employees, and whether their businesses will be safe for consumers during this pandemic by requiring employees to take the simple and effective step of getting vaccinated.”  The Court’s rulings do not impede states or private employers from imposing COVID-19 workplace vaccine mandates.

Employers with questions about whether and how to impose and enforce vaccination mandates should obtain legal guidance.  Dunn DeSantis Walt & Kendrick LLP provides employment law advice and counseling to businesses of all sizes and responds to questions involving the pandemic and employment on a daily basis.

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