Federal appeals court reinstates Biden administration’s business vaccine and testing mandate

Health, Fitness & Food

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021.
Al Drago | Bloomberg | Getty Images

A federal appeals court has reinstated the Biden administration’s vaccine and testing requirement for private businesses that covers about 80 million American workers.

The ruling by the 6th U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati lifted a November injunction that had blocked the rule from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which applies to businesses with least 100 workers.

In the decision Friday, the court noted that OSHA “demonstrated the pervasive danger that COVID-19 poses to workers—unvaccinated workers in particular—in their workplaces.”

The Justice Department argued last week that blocking the requirements would result in “enormous” harm to the public, as hospitals brace for an increase in Covid cases this winter and the highly mutated omicron variant takes root in more states.

“COVID-19 is spreading in workplaces, and workers are being hospitalized and dying,” the Justice Department argued in a court filing on Friday. “As COVID-19 case numbers continue to rise and a new variant has emerged, the threat to workers is ongoing and overwhelming.”

The policy required businesses with 100 or more employees to ensure their workers were fully vaccinated by Jan. 4 or submit a negative Covid test weekly to enter the workplace. Unvaccinated employees were required to start wearing masks indoors starting Dec. 5.

Republican attorneys general, private companies and industry groups such as the National Retail Federation, the American Trucking Associations, and the National Federation of Independent Business sued to have the policy overturned. They argued that the requirements are unnecessary, burden businesses with compliance costs, and exceed the authority of the federal government.

The Biden administration last month stopped implementation and enforcement of the requirements to comply with an order issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans. Judge Kurt D. Englehardt, in an opinion for a three-judge panel, said the requirements were “staggeringly overbroad” and raised “serious constitutional concerns.”

The more than two dozen lawsuits filed against the vaccine and testing requirements were transferred to the Sixth Circuit last month after the Biden administration ask a multidistrict litigation panel to consolidate the case in a single court through random selection.

The Justice Department, in its court filing last week, argued that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which developed the requirements, acted within its emergency powers as established by Congress. The Biden administration dismissed opponents claims that workers would quit because of the policy and said the compliance costs were “modest.”

“The threat to human life and health also vastly outweighs petitioners’ guesswork about the number of workers who may quit rather than get vaccinated or tested,” The Justice Department wrote in its filing, arguing that many workers who say they will quit end up complying with vaccine mandates.

OSHA, which polices workplace safety for the Labor department, developed the vaccine and testing requirements under emergency powers that allow the agency to shortcut the normal rulemaking process, which can take years. OSHA can issue an emergency workplace safety standard if the Labor secretary determines a standard is necessary to protect workers from a grave danger.

The White House has repeatedly argued that Covid presents a grave danger to workers, pointing to the staggering death toll from the pandemic and rising Covid infections across the U.S.

Reuters contributed to this report.

This breaking news. Please check back for updates.

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