NEWS

Here’s Why Your Employer May Be Mandating COVID-19 Vaccines Soon

Person getting a COVID vaccine.

Ksenia Zvezdina / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • The Biden Administration is requiring businesses with more than 100 employees to vaccinate their workers against COVID-19 or enforce weekly testing for employees who refuse to get the shots.
  • If a business does not comply with the mandate, it will be fined.
  • The mandate still leaves unvaccinated populations (such as self-employed individuals and those who work in small businesses) behind.

In early September, President Biden announced a comprehensive six-part COVID-19 plan to ensure that more eligible Americans get vaccinated.

The national strategy requires that companies with more than 100 employees get their workforce fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or have unvaccinated employees undergo weekly COVID testing.

The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will be enforcing the vaccine mandate, which will affect over 80 million workers in private sector businesses.

Employers must also provide paid time off to allow employees to get the vaccine. Businesses that do not comply with the mandate may face hefty fines.

Pros and Cons of Mandating Vaccination

Although there are potential drawbacks to the mandate, experts say that overall, it's a necessary step to ensure that more eligible Americans get vaccinated.

More Protection for More People

“The vaccine mandate is a good move because we know that the vaccine is both safe and effective and the FDA has fully approved it,” Ann McGinley, JD, a William S. Boyd School of Law professor and co-director of the Workplace Law Program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, tells Verywell. “The mandate will keep not only employees safe, but it should protect their families and friends as well as the general public to the extent the employees deal with the public.”

Vaccines ultimately benefit the recipient, but the protection also extends to those around them as well. It also helps protect people who have not mounted an adequate immune response to the vaccines, and children who are not yet old enough to get vaccinated.

Will Employees Quit Over the Mandate?

Karen Jubanyik, MD, an emergency medicine physician at Yale Medicine and an associate professor at the Yale School of Medicine, tells Verywell that a potential downside to the vaccine mandate is people quitting their jobs if they do not want to follow the rule.

“Already, there is reportedly a maternity ward that will have to shut down in one hospital because they had too many people quit over vaccine mandate,” Jubanyik says, adding that many problems could crop up if there are a lot of unvaccinated people in frontline work, such as hospitals, schools, stores, and transportation, who quit their jobs rather than get vaccinated.

“It is possible that it will create some strife among employees and between groups of employees and their employers,” McGinley adds. “But I believe that the mandate gives employers ‘cover’ to do what is best for their workforces. Although there is a very vocal opposition, every day there are more people who are getting vaccinated, and that is saving lives.” 

Addressing Vaccine Hesitancy

Although it’s been more than half a year since the vaccine rollout started, some people are still hesitant about getting vaccinated.

Jubanyik says that some unvaccinated people do not feel that they have enough information to make an informed decision about vaccination. In underrepresented communities, many people have avoided vaccination out of the mistrust of medicine and the government that stems from a history of mistreatment.

"While the vaccines are safe and effective and are now FDA-approved, I have some empathy for those who just want to speak to their personal primary medical provider or others whom they trust before they accept the vaccination," Jubanyik says.

What This Means For You

If you have not yet been vaccinated against COVID-19, your employer may soon require you to do so or enforce weekly testing to comply with the Biden Administration’s pandemic action plan. You can find a vaccine appointment near you at vaccines.gov.

Experts Expect Pushback

Many states have introduced bills to limit vaccine requirements. Some states, including Montana, Arkansas, and South Carolina, have already signed legislation banning COVID-19 vaccination as a condition for employment.

While the vaccine mandate does not force employees to get vaccinated and they are allowed to opt for weekly testing instead, experts predict that states will be against the rule.

Jubanyik says that while there will likely be court challenges, some companies that do not want to enforce the mandate will be able to skirt it—at least at first.

“I predict that many states will push back," Jubanyik says. "These are the states that have had huge problems with the current Delta wave. The governors and legislators in these states do not seem to see the connection between their lack of regulations and the huge delta surge.”

Can Employers Sue?

The office of Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich recently announced that it is suing the Biden Administration for requiring COVID-19 vaccines, making it the first state lawsuit filed against the mandate. 

However, federal law carries a greater weight than state law. The federal vaccine mandate will likely override bans on vaccine requirements that some states have in place.

McGinley says that "federal law is ‘supreme’ to state law under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution." This means that state law cannot contradict federal law, and that "state bans that would prohibit employers from requiring that their employees be vaccinated would likely not be enforceable," McGinley adds.

However, McGinley says she also expects "many governors to bring lawsuits on the issue, which will slow things down considerably and give some employers who are not enforcing the law cover for not doing so.”

OSHA's Role

As for how the mandate will be enforced, OSHA will likely be a key player. "[This arrangement is] likely the weakest part of the mandate, given that OSHA has far too few inspectors to handle this situation," McGinley adds.

She predicts that some vaccinated employees will notify OSHA if their employers are not following the mandate. McGinley says that as long as there is not a large group of employers who are defying the law, tip-offs from vaccinated employees could work because it would allow OSHA to "focus on the businesses where the complaints are.”

Self-Employed and Small Businesses Left Out

The Biden Administration’s plan specifically includes employers with over 100 employees, which will leave out some unvaccinated populations, including people who are self-employed or who work for small businesses.

“About 33% of employees nationwide work for employers that employ fewer than 100 employees, so this mandate reaches the majority of employees—about 67%—but it also leaves many employers and employees out,” McGinley says. “Small businesses and their employees will not be covered by the mandate."

Some experts even say that the limit may motivate companies with slightly over 100 employees to downsize a little just to escape the mandate.

McGinley thinks that the reason for the 100 employee limit is to protect small businesses from over-regulation.

But because of this limit, "there need to be even more educational programs that meet people where they are, no matter who they are," she says.

While getting through to unvaccinated populations is part of the plan, ultimately, the government needs to ensure public safety by enforcing other measures to minimize the risk of infection and virus spread within the groups that are not covered by the federal vaccine mandate.

“Obviously, contractors who are entering other peoples' homes to do work are a real risk if they do not wear masks and are unvaccinated, as would be those people who work in small independent stores where shoppers could get exposed," Jubanyik says. "The government needs to be proactive and say it will pay primary care providers (PCP) for counseling patients about getting the vaccination and needs to ensure adequate distribution of the vaccination to PCPs.”

"[It's important to] demonstrate respect for those who have not gotten the vaccine, listen to their reasons, and organize folks from their own communities to educate them on the benefits and safety of the vaccines," McGinley adds.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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  1. The White House. Path out of the Pandemic. Updated September 9, 2021.