A federal appeals court has temporarily blocked a Biden administration rule that would mandate Covid-19 vaccination for many U.S. workers.
Under an interim final rule published by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), workers at all U.S. employers with 100 or more employees would be required to either get vaccinated against Covid-19 by Jan. 4 deadline or submit to weekly testing.
Employers that do not comply could face federal fines of almost $14,000 per violation, Axios reports. According to OSHA officials, the administration will rely heavily on complaints to investigate violations and enforce the rule.
On Saturday, a three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Louisiana temporarily blocked the OSHA vaccine mandate, saying that a suit against the mandate "g[a]ve cause to believe there are grave statutory and constitutional issues with the mandate."
The lawsuit—which was filed by states including Texas and Louisiana, religious groups, and advocacy organizations—claims that President Joe Biden "set the legislative policy" of increasing the number of Americans who are required to get vaccinated against Covid-19, and "then set binding rules enforced with the threat of large fines."
According to the suit, this move "is a quintessential legislative act—and one wholly unrelated to the purpose of OSHA itself, which is protecting workplace safety. Nowhere in OHSA's enabling legislation does Congress confer upon it the power to end pandemics."
On Sunday, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said the Biden administration is "prepared to defend" its vaccine mandate.
"The president and the administration wouldn't have put these requirements in place if they didn't think that they were appropriate and necessary," Murthy said.
Similarly, White House chief of staff Ron Klain said he is "quite confident" the vaccine mandate will be upheld.
"If OSHA can tell people to wear a hard hat on the job, to be careful around chemicals, it can put in place these simple measures to keep our workers safe," Klain said.
Seema Nanda, chief legal officer for the Department of Labor, argued that OSHA is within its authority to issue the vaccine mandate.
"The Occupational Safety and Health Act explicitly gives OSHA the authority to act quickly in an emergency where the agency finds that workers are subjected to a grave danger and a new standard is necessary to protect them," Nanda said. (Frazier, Axios, 11/4; Imbler, New York Times, 11/7; Hirsch/Paz, New York Times, 11/6; Associated Press, 11/7; Rainey, Politico, 11/6; Lonas, The Hill, 11/6)
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