A National Vaccine Mandate for Businesses Goes Into Effect Today, Here’s What That Means for Retailers

President Biden’s vaccine mandate for certain businesses is effective as of today.

Under this mandate, employers with 100 or more employees are required to have their staff get vaccinated by a Jan. 4 deadline. Those who opt out of the vaccine have to wear masks starting Dec. 5 and start providing negative COVID-19 tests after Jan. 4.

The rule impacts over 80 million Americans in the private sector workforce. Right now, the mandate lives in the form of an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), an acceleration measure from the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

“COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on workers, and we continue to see dangerous levels of cases,” said U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh in a press release. “We must take action to implement this emergency temporary standard to contain the virus and protect people in the workplace against the grave danger of COVID-19. Many businesses understand the benefits of having their workers vaccinated against COVID-19, and we expect many will be pleased to see this OSHA rule go into effect.”

The mandate will be in effect for six months and will then be subject to a formal rule-making process through OSHA to make it a permanent standard. However, the mandate will be subject to challenges from courts during this process.

OSHA will enforce the mandate, which means that any state with its own federally approved OSHA proxy can determine if and how it is enforced. About half U.S. states currently operate with this structure. If these states want to avoid the ETS, they will have to adopt an identical or equally as effective standard or explain why their current standards already meet what is required in the ETS.

“We’re going to see a fraction of states that elect not to promulgate this executive order,” Dr. Anthony Harris, MD, an advisor to the federal government and health consultant for multiple businesses, previously told FN.

How states proceed will impact the companies and retailers based there. For example, Texas governor Greg Abbott attempted to ban vaccine requirements for all businesses and entities in Texas. As a result, Texas-based retailers such as Neiman Marcus, Academy Sports + Outdoors, J.C. Penney, and Tailored Brands were almost put in a position between federal and state jurisdiction.

The mandate has already prompted various reactions from business leaders and organizations. In a recent statement, the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) SVP for government relations David French decried the “burdensome” mandate that is being enforced in the midst of the critical holiday shopping season.

“It is critical that the rule not cause unnecessary disruption to the economy, exacerbate the preexisting workforce shortage or saddle retailers, who are already taking considerable steps to keep their employees and customers safe, with needless additional requirements and regulatory burdens,” French wrote. 

On the other hand, some retail companies have already decided to implement their own vaccine mandates for staff.

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