In September, President Joe Biden issued an executive order mandating all businesses employing more than 100 or more people to have their workers vaccinated against COVID-19. Unvaccinated employees must submit negative COVID-19 test results on a weekly basis and wear face masks. Companies that do not comply with the rule by Jan. 4 could face fines.
A month ago, a federal appeals court in the state of Louisiana had blocked the mandate after several states, companies, and individuals filed a lawsuit against Biden’s order. The lawsuit argued that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) had exceeded its authority by issuing the vaccine mandate pushed forward by Biden and that the coronavirus is not to be classified as a workplace hazard.
On Dec. 17, the Sixth Circuit federal appeals court from Ohio reinstated Biden’s executive order in a 2-1 ruling, insisting that OSHA had the authority to issue such vaccine mandates.
“It is difficult to imagine what more OSHA could do or rely on to justify its finding that workers face a grave danger in the workplace… It is not appropriate to second-guess that agency determination considering the substantial evidence, including many peer-reviewed scientific studies, on which it relied,” the opinion stated.
The sole dissenting judge was Trump appointee Joan Louise Larsen who pointed out that Congress has not provided the OSHA with the power to create such a rule. In addition, the secretary of labor “has not made the appropriate finding of necessity.” An “emergency standard” is necessary to protect employees from danger, she insisted.
“The purpose of the mandate is to protect unvaccinated people. The rule’s premise is that vaccines work. And so, OSHA has explained that the rule is not about protecting the vaccinated; they do not face ‘grave danger’ from working with those who are not vaccinated,” Larsen said in her dissenting opinion.
Following the court judgment, 27 business groups filed an appeal at the Supreme Court in a bid to block the mandate. The group argued that the OSHA vaccine rule will bring harm to thousands of businesses by imposing “substantial, nonrecoverable compliance costs.”
Businesses will have to bear the cost of testing employees, with such costs potentially transferred to customers at a time when the average American is reeling under inflation. Businesses that pass these costs on to employees might face mass resignations, they warned.
In a tweet on Dec. 18, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge denounced the decision of the appeals court. “The Sixth Circuit’s decision is extremely disappointing for Arkansans because it will force them to get the shot or lose their jobs. That’s why I am asking the United States Supreme Court to immediately block President Biden’s order,” she said.
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson admitted to being “disappointed” by the court decision. But Wilson promised to continue fighting against the “illegal mandate” as he believes it can be stopped. The OSHA vaccine mandate imposes a fine of $13,600 per violation on businesses. For violations deemed to be serious, fines can go up to $136,000.