President Biden’s vaccine mandate presents challenges for businesses.

President Biden’s vaccine mandate presents challenges for businesses.

President Biden on Thursday laid out a wide-ranging plan to tackle the pandemic, including requiring companies with more than 100 employees to mandate that their workers get vaccinated or face weekly testing.

The move comes as airlines, restaurants and other businesses are already feeling the pain of an economic pullback caused by the Delta variant of the virus. The new rule, which Biden instructed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to put in place by drafting an emergency temporary standard, will affect some 80 million workers.

Many companies were already moving toward mandates. In a recent Willis Towers Watson survey, 52 percent of respondents said they planned to institute vaccine mandates by the end of the year, and 21 percent said they already had such requirements.

But many of those mandates, including at companies like Goldman Sachs and UPS, have focused on white-collar workers, who tend to have higher vaccination rates. This presidential directive will help industries that are facing labor shortages, like retail and hospitality, institute a requirement on their frontline workers.

“It levels the playing field,” said Ian Schaefer, a partner at the law firm Loeb & Loeb.

Companies will now face new decisions, like whether to pick up the tab for weekly testing and how to handle religious exemptions — tasks many are already finding challenging.

A recent poll by Aon of 583 global companies found that of the employers that have vaccine mandates, 48 percent said they were allowing for religious exemptions; only 7 percent said they would fire a worker for refusing to get vaccinated.

Among unanswered questions:

  • How will the government gather, store and track information on employee vaccinations?

  • What penalties will companies face if they choose not to follow the new requirement?

  • Does it apply to all workers, or only those going into an office?

  • When will the new rules take effect?

Reaction was, unsurprisingly, mixed. The Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce both welcomed the Biden administration’s actions. But Gov. Greg Gianforte, Republican of Montana, the only state to ban vaccine mandates, called the new rules “unlawful and un-American.” The Republican National Committee said it intended to sue.

Whether legal challenges will prove successful is unclear. OSHA’s emergency temporary standards pre-empt state governments’ existing rules, except in states that have their own OSHA-approved workplace agencies. (About half do.) The legal basis for a challenge is likely to be weakest in states that are directly within OSHA’s jurisdiction, like Montana, Texas and Florida.

Do you run or work at a business that will be affected by the new vaccine mandate? If so we’d like to hear from you. Email [email protected] and please let us know how to reach you if we need to learn more.

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