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Supreme Court Covid

Everybody Has an Opinion: SCOTUS Shuts Down OSHA’s COVID-19 Mandate

Jan. 14, 2022
Supreme Court rules that OSHA overreached with its COVID Emergency Temporary Standard.

As we’ve reported elsewhere, the US Supreme Court has blocked the Occupational Safety and Health Organization (OSHA) Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) that would have required workers at private companies with more than 100 employees to receive COVID-19 vaccinations or take weekly tests for the virus. That mandate, SCOTUS said in a 6-3 ruling, oversteps OSHA’s authority as a workplace safety agency. However, SCOTUS ruled 5-4 to allow a similar mandate limited to healthcare workers to remain in effect.

In a statement, President Joe Biden said, “[The] decision by the Supreme Court to uphold the requirement for healthcare workers will save lives: the lives of patients who seek care in medical facilities, as well as the lives of doctors, nurses, and others who work there. It will cover 10.4 million health care workers at 76,000 medical facilities. We will enforce it.

“At the same time, I am disappointed that the Supreme Court has chosen to block common-sense life-saving requirements for employees at large businesses that were grounded squarely in both science and the law. This emergency standard allowed employers to require vaccinations or to permit workers to refuse to be vaccinated, so long as they were tested once a week and wore a mask at work: a very modest burden.

“As a result of the Court’s decision, 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 has ruled that my administration cannot use the authority granted to it by Congress to require this measure, but that does not stop me from using my voice as President to advocate for employers to do the right thing to protect Americans’ health and economy. I call on business leaders to immediately join those who have already stepped up—including one third of Fortune 100 companies—and institute vaccination requirements to protect their workers, customers, and communities.”

Here’s a snapshot look at how the news has played out in various media outlets:

Wall Street Journal: A Split Supreme Court Decision on Vaccine Mandates

New York Times: Supreme Court Blocks Biden’s Virus Mandate for Large Employers

USA Today: Supreme Court blocks COVID-19 vaccine-or-testing mandate for workplaces but lets medical rule stand

Naturally, rulings affecting most of the working population of the U.S. have resulted in numerous reactions to the ruling from various stakeholders, trade associations and other organizations. Here’s a small sampling of the reactions to the rulings.

Marty Walsh, Secretary of Labor, US Department of Labor:

“I am disappointed in the court’s decision, which is a major setback to the health and safety of workers across the country. OSHA stands by the Vaccination and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard as the best way to protect the nation’s workforce from a deadly virus that is infecting more than 750,000 Americans each day and has taken the lives of nearly a million Americans.... We urge all employers to require workers to get vaccinated or tested weekly to most effectively fight this deadly virus in the workplace. Employers are responsible for the safety of their workers on the job, and OSHA has comprehensive COVID-19 guidance to help them uphold their obligation. Regardless of the ultimate outcome of these proceedings, OSHA will do everything in its existing authority to hold businesses accountable for protecting workers, including under the Covid-19 National Emphasis Program and General Duty Clause.”

Lorraine Martin, president and CEO, National Safety Council (NSC):

“COVID-19 continues to devastate the American people, and employers must play a role in fighting this deadly virus. Despite the Court’s ruling, we call on employers everywhere to take responsibility for the safety of their workers by implementing a requirement for vaccination or testing, and exhausting any and all proven safety countermeasures such as masking, frequent handwashing, improved ventilation systems, and regularly disinfecting work surfaces.”

Jay Timmons, president and CEO of National Association of Manufacturers (NAM):

“[The Supreme Court]’s ruling does not change the fact that getting vaccinated is the best defense against COVID-19 and central to our ability to keep businesses and schools open and prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed.... We call on all Americans to make the choice to get vaccinated, get boosted when eligible and wear the appropriate mask in public places—so that we can save lives, protect our economy and get through this latest wave of infection.”

Eric Hoplin, CEO, National Association of Wholesale-Distributors (NAW):

“We commend the Supreme Court’s decision to stay President Biden’s vaccine mandate. While we share the goal this mandate hopes to achieve, the reality is that this broad government overreach will have dramatic impacts on the economy, as tens of thousands of Americans quit their jobs rather than submit to the edict of government. Moreover, imposing testing requirements during a nationwide shortage of COVID-19 tests leaves businesses open to massive fines from the government. Since vaccines became available, NAW and its member companies have strongly supported vaccinating America and our workforce and will continue to do so until the pandemic is behind us.”

Jessica E. Martinez, co-executive director, National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH):

“At a time when the COVID-19 virus is spreading faster than ever, workers will pay the price—with their very lives—for this wrong-headed decision by the Supreme Court. A deeply flawed opinion ignores law and precedent that clearly states OSHA’s authority to protect workers from dangerous conditions. It’s good to know that workers in federally-funded health care facilities will still have protections from COVID-19, but we cannot leave other workers defenseless against a deadly virus. OSHA can and should still require employers to meet their legal and moral obligation to provide a workplace safe from known hazards, which certainly includes infectious diseases like COVID-19.”

Robert Weissman, president, Public Citizen:

“The [Supreme Court] got things tragically wrong in concluding that OSHA’s approach to regulating COVID-19 risk at work was not plainly within the scope of its statutory authority. OSHA’s emergency authority is tailored exactly for circumstances like this. The direct result of this decision will be thousands of needless deaths and preventable illnesses. Beyond the immediate effects of today’s decision, it is important to note that the court acknowledged OSHA’s broad authority to regulate occupational hazards, including workplace-specific risks related to COVID-19.”

Ryan Bangert, senior counsel, Alliance Defending Freedom:

“The Supreme Court correctly concluded that the federal administrative state has no authority to treat unvaccinated employees like workplace hazards and to compel employers to carry out the government’s unlawful national vaccine mandate. The Biden administration’s mandate would have a profoundly negative effect on those employers and the 80 million American workers who are affected, and that is why the Supreme Court was right to immediately halt its enforcement.”

Feel free to add your own reactions in the Comments field below.

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