Business organizations are becoming increasingly irritated as Labor Department officials press forward with President Biden’s vaccine requirement without consulting with them.
While lobbying groups representing some of the country’s largest corporations do not oppose the rule, which will require employers with more than 100 employees to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations or weekly testing, those same organizations have presented Biden officials with lengthy lists of unanswered questions about the rule.
“The administration has failed to engage in any real debate about their plan,” said Ed Egee, the National Retail Federation’s vice president of government relations and workforce development.
According to industry lobbyists, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is entrusted with implementing the vaccine-or-test mandate, is not holding meetings with business organizations or labor unions hoping to influence the process or learn more about the regulation.
OSHA did not respond to a request for comment on whether the agency will consult with industry and labor groups as it develops the rule.
The regulation is being developed by OSHA as an emergency temporary standard (ETS), which permits the agency to avoid the regular public comment period used in the rulemaking process.
According to business groups, if OSHA does not solicit advice from private businesses, it risks issuing a regulation that will be ineffective at improving vaccination rates and difficult to implement.
According to the National Retail Federation, it offered to connect OSHA officials with executives from companies that have already successfully adopted their own vaccine requirements, such as Walmart and Disney but was turned down.
“You would expect that from a good government position, they would want to acquire as much information as they can, particularly from companies that have already done this,” Egee added.
The Coalition for Workplace Safety, which is backed by corporate lobbying behemoths like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, urged OSHA on Friday to “reconsider its decision not to accept feedback from interested stakeholders.”
“Before releasing any ETS, OSHA should evaluate these considerations and solicit written comments from stakeholders on a draft standard,” the letter stated. “Anything less invites avoidable implementation issues and expenses, undermining the effectiveness of this ETS in accomplishing its goals.”
Businesses have a slew of issues for OSHA, including how to verify vaccination status, how to handle religion and disability exemptions, whether remote workers will be subject to the rule, who will pay for testing, and whether workers will be given paid time off to get tested.
The Retail Industry Leaders Association and the National Retail Federation called for a 90-day buffer to implement the regulation and submit feedback when the vaccine-or-test mandate is officially announced in a letter to Labor Department officials last week.
“As we navigated federal and state laws, guidelines, and processes, we discovered that it takes time to develop successful testing and immunization programs—especially when faced with hurdles relating to availability, access, and verification,” the groups said.
Similarly, the US Chamber of Commerce requested OSHA to respond to its questions “to ensure that, if an ETS becomes enforceable, employer compliance is as obvious, straightforward, and cost-effective as possible.”
The vaccine-or-test policy was announced earlier this month by the Biden administration in an effort to get more Americans immunized against the rapidly spreading virus. Companies that fail to comply may be fined up to $14,000 per infringement.
Many businesses already track vaccination status in the workplace, but few have implemented a COVID-19 testing requirement for unvaccinated employees. Most firms are hesitant to purchase testing supplies because they are unsure who will pay for them or what types of tests will suffice.
Companies will have to compete with schools, hospitals, and other businesses to obtain rapid testing supplies, which are becoming increasingly expensive and difficult to obtain. Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a warning about a significant testing scarcity.
According to Michelle Strowhiro, a lawyer at McDermott Will & Emery who advises businesses on COVID-19 employment concerns, some employers may choose to forego the testing option entirely.
“Administratively, it will be rather demanding for companies, particularly large employers with hundreds or thousands of employees, to follow the testing results for employees on a weekly basis,” Strowhiro added.
Other large employers are concerned that if the regulation goes into force, they will lose workers to competing enterprises with less than 100 employees that do not require vaccines or testing, or to independent contracting for gig companies, which do not normally require contractors to get the shot.
One-quarter of adults in the United States are not immunized against the fatal virus. According to a Washington Post-ABC News study conducted this month, nearly two-thirds of unvaccinated employees would rather quit than get the vaccine.
Businesses do not want to lose any employees in the midst of a nationwide labor crunch that has left 10 million jobs unfilled. Companies in low-vaccination-rate areas of the country are especially concerned about the danger of staff leaving once the law goes into force.
While many business executives have stated that requiring vaccinations resulted in a minimal number of employee losses, the concern is playing out in New York, which is bracing for a health care worker shortage after thousands of hospital employees failed to get the shot before Monday’s state-imposed deadline.
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