Saying the nation’s “patience is wearing thin” for Americans unvaccinated against COVID-19, President Biden minced few words in White House remarks yesterday that included announcing he directed the Department of Labor (DOL) to issue a vaccine mandate for all U.S. employers with 100 or more workers.
Affecting some 80 million U.S. employees, the executive order means workers nationwide will have to show proof of vaccination or get tested weekly for COVID-19. According to a representative from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), employers in noncompliance will be penalized $14,000 per violation.
Biden also noted he’d instructed the DOL to require employers to provide paid time off for employees to get vaccinated in compliance with the mandate.
Finally, the president announced an executive order requiring all executive branch employees and federal contract workers to be vaccinated, without testing alternatives.
The orders will help bring two-thirds of the nation’s workforce in line with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and OSHA that currently recommend mask mandates for employers and the vaccine for all eligible individuals who can safely receive it.
The mandate also gives greater “air cover,” in Biden’s words, for employers to join some of the nation’s largest private-sector employers—including Delta Airlines, Google, Morgan Stanley, Saks, Walmart, and The Walt Disney Company—that have already announced vaccine mandates for their employees.
Although Biden didn’t announce an effective date for the mandate, he said employees would have ample time to get vaccinated. However, HR/benefits leaders will have to work quickly to build and secure an infrastructure to help employees comply and feel confident that their vaccine-related personal health information will be protected.
Employers will also have to contend with segments of their workforce that are among the 80 million unvaccinated U.S. adults, 11% of the vaccine-eligible population that is hesitant to receive it, and 48% who don’t wear masks when in close contact with people from other households.
At the state level, 41 states don’t have any sort of mask mandate. And, eight governors have explicitly banned mask mandates statewide or had mandates overturned, preventing localities—and employers therein—from implementing such measures.
These fresh compliance concerns fall squarely on HR/benefits leaders to reconcile. Ever-resilient, HR professionals face the challenge of meeting the expectations of 91% of executive leaders who want employees to return to the office sooner rather than later, and 100% of employees who are fearful at the prospect.
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