In December, the block on the OSHA vaccine mandate was lifted. But what does that mean for you and your business in 2022? And how can you combat rising COVID testing costs while ensuring the occupational safety and health of your employees?
OSHA Mandate: What You Should Know
Before we get into what the mandate means for your business or your employees, we have to know the OSHA mandate requirements. The mandate goes into effect on Monday, January 10, 2022, and it requires that employees who work at a private company with 100 or more employees either get vaccinated or submit to weekly COVID-19 testing if they choose to stay unvaccinated for personal, medical, or religious reasons. This mandate affects a total of 84 million working Americans.
For any employees who choose to get vaccinated, their employers must provide paid time off to those who need to schedule a vaccine appointment or appointments (up to 4 hours of time off per dose), as well as to those who are recovering from side effects caused by the COVID-19 vaccine.
Additionally, any employee that has not been fully vaccinated by the January deadline will need to wear a mask while at work and provide negative COVID test results on a weekly basis at a minimum.
Though there are few details about how OSHA will be enforcing the mandate, the penalty for employers who don’t abide by the new rules could incur fines of up to $14,000 per violation.
There are some exceptions, however. For example, if you are a health care facility that accepts or participates in Medicare or Medicaid, health care workers and employees of your facility do not have the option to forgo the vaccine and submit to weekly testing – they must get tested or be terminated from their position.
This is just the latest in vaccine mandates that have been handed down since the pandemic began. President Biden previously signed an executive order requiring all federal workers to be fully vaccinated by November 22, 2021, and all federal contractors to be fully vaccinated by January 18, 2022. And more than 20 states already had vaccine mandates in place, to varying degrees, before the OSHA mandate came about.
If unvaccinated workers don’t comply or have a valid medical or religious exemption filed, they can be suspended or terminated.
Workers’ Rights under the Mandate
Recently, OSHA shared a fact sheet about workers’ rights with regard to the mandate.
Under the OSH Act, private sector employers are not to retaliate against employees for exercising their rights, so long as they fall within the guidelines of the mandate.
For example, employees cannot be terminated for choosing to remain unvaccinated, requesting paid time off for vaccine side effects, requesting or wearing personal protective equipment (such as a mask), or reporting a COVID-19 infection or exposure to their employer or OSHA.
Potential Issues for Employers
The OSHA mandate has been described as a “floor of safety – not a ceiling.”
There are many businesses that would fall under the mandate’s requirements that have already incorporated their own vaccine mandates into the employee handbook. Throughout 2021, there were many headlines talking about private businesses (many of them a part of the medical and healthcare industries) imposing vaccine mandates on their clinical staff. While the mandate offers employees the opportunity to choose between vaccination and weekly testing, individual employers that fall under the mandate’s parameters can veto the weekly testing option.
Because of the divisive discourse surrounding the COVID-19 vaccines, there are potential issues no matter where you choose to draw the line as a business. If you don’t implement vaccine mandates, your organization could lose business and be deemed “unsafe” by those who are in favor of everyone being vaccinated.
On the other hand, if you impose a vaccine mandate on all current and future employees, you may lose some of those current employees because they choose their personal or religious beliefs over the mandate. Because of these divisions, it’s important to establish a protocol for how you will be handling people who are non-compliant with your mandate or the OSHA mandate and to prepare for whatever fallout comes from the establishment of your position.
As for compliance, employers are also required to determine the vaccination status of their employees and maintain records proving each employee’s status. They must also “establish, implement, and enforce a written mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy.”
Employers are also responsible for maintaining records on the weekly test results for unvaccinated employees, should they choose to include that in their company COVID policy. Employers are not, however, mandated to pay for this testing, though they may volunteer to do so. If an employee chooses to remain unvaccinated, they are responsible for the testing and the costs incurred.
For more detailed information regarding specific instances and exceptions to the vaccine and testing requirements, we would recommend you read through the OSHA ETS FAQ page.
The OSHA mandate allows for over-the-counter testing to be used if you are collecting weekly tests from your employees, but these tests cannot be both self-administered and self-read.
According to OSHA, “Observation of a COVID-19 test by an employer or authorized telehealth proctor must be done in real-time to meet the requirements of ETS.”
For more information on the different types of testing and why rapid antigen testing (like that provided by Reliant Health Services) is better for complying with the OSHA mandate, check out our recent article by Dr. Michael Daignault, our Chief Medical Advisor.
Manage Mandated Testing with Reliant Health Services
The OSHA mandate is in full effect, and your business needs convenient and workable testing solutions. Reliant Health Services is helping empower businesses to reopen, stay open, and prosper during the pandemic by providing weekly frictionless and low-cost testing programs.
Our business testing solutions are available for organizations with 100 to 50,000+ employees, including:
- Available on-site testing
- Dedicated Account Executive
- Dedicated Expert Support
- Employer Online Portal
- Employer & Employee FAQs