More than 80 million workers affected by new federal vaccine rule

Published: Nov. 4, 2021 at 8:41 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Tens of millions of workers now have a deadline for when they have to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to weekly testing.

The deadline for the vaccination rule for businesses with 100 or more employees is January 4.

The White House is finally releasing the much-anticipated details of the rule after announcing it in September.

The rule from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says companies with 100 or more employees must require employees to be vaccinated by January 4 or submit to weekly COVID-19 testing.

Tennessee lawmakers worked all last week in a special session to prohibit this exact rule in the state, but for many businesses, the federal rule will be the law.

“The federal regulation would preempt or trump inconsistent state or local regulations,” said University of Memphis law professor, Steve Mulroy.

As part of a sweeping pandemic bill, Tennessee lawmakers passed rules last week that would prohibit asking anyone for proof of vaccination. Many Republican lawmakers and Governor Bill Lee went on the record to speak out against the impending federal vaccine rule last month.

While Mulroy said the OSHA rule takes precedence over state laws, there are parts of the Tennessee law that will be in effect.

“With respect to employers with fewer than 100 employees, then the state law would apply,” Mulroy said. “The state law could also apply not only to employees but to patrons. So, requirements of customers and patrons showing a vaccine passport before they can enter a place.”

The OSHA rule says if employees are not vaccinated, they have to have weekly COVID-19 testing done and must wear a mask while at work. The rule says employers must also provide paid time for employees to go get the vaccine.

Previous orders from President Joe Biden mandate all federal contractors get vaccinated, and the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services is requiring all workers at healthcare facilities who receive Medicaid or Medicare funds to be fully vaccinated or submit to regular testing

All rules have the January 4 deadline.

Mid-South governors are weighing the next steps as many vowed to fight a vaccine rule on businesses in court.

“I oppose these mandates based on the freedom businesses should have to run their workplace,” Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson said. “The result of these mandates is to create hardships on people, businesses, and our efforts to get people back to work.”

Tennessee and Arkansas have already filed suit against the rule mandating vaccines for federal contractors.

Arkansas joined a lawsuit with 10 other states, and Thursday, Hutchinson said he’d support Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s pursuit to file a lawsuit against the OSHA rule as well.

Regarding filing another lawsuit challenging the OSHA rule, Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery said his office will take time to review the rule and determine the next steps.

Thursday, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves said the mandates are tyranny. He said the state will ‘fight back.’

With the rule in place, employers are now taking steps to implement it.

The Mid-South’s largest employer, FedEx, said, “We strongly encourage team members to get vaccinated and continue to communicate on the importance of and access to COVID-19 vaccines. FedEx is engaged with the relevant government agencies on the federal contractor vaccination requirement and is reviewing the OSHA rule.”

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