Supreme Court Reinstates Stay on Biden’s Vaccine Mandate for Private Employers

In a 6-3 decision issued January 13, 2022, the Supreme Court cast significant doubt on the viability of a pillar of President Biden’s plan to fight to the spread of Covid-19. The Court’s majority held that challengers were likely to succeed on their claim that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) emergency temporary standards requiring all private employers with 100 or more employees to mandate employee vaccination against Covid-19, with an exception for those that require unvaccinated employees to wear masks and test weekly, exceeds the agency’s authority.  As a result of the Court’s ruling, the mandate is once again stayed while legal challenges proceed through the courts.  The Court held that the Secretary of Labor, acting through OSHA, has the authority “to set workplace safety standards, not broad public health measures.”  The Court did not approve of the rule’s broad scope covering employers regardless of industry, leaving open the possibility that industry-specific mandates issued by OSHA may be upheld.

In a separate 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court lifted the lower court’s preliminary injunction, allowing a different rule issued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which requires workers at facilities that participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 unless they qualify for a medical or religious exemption, to proceed while legal challenges are pending.

While the Court’s ruling means there is currently no federal vaccine mandate for all large employers throughout the country, the Biden administration has encouraged employers to institute such mandates on their own for the health and safety of their employees, noting that one third of Fortune 100 companies have already done so.  Because the holding is based on OSHA’s authority to implement such standards, this ruling also has no bearing on the right of states and localities to issue their own vaccine mandates, which thus far have been upheld by the Supreme Court.

New York City has mandated that all private employers require employee vaccination, and New York State has mandated that employers require employees to provide proof of vaccination or wear masks.  Many other states and localities throughout the country have implemented industry-specific vaccination requirements, so employers and employees should check local requirements to ensure compliance.

This article is intended only as a general discussion of these issues. It is not considered to be legal advice or relied upon in regard to particular legal matters. If you seek assistance with a particular employment law or labor law matter, please contact RPJ Partner Jill Kahn Marshall to discuss.