President Joe Biden’s administration announced Thursday that businesses with 100 or more employees have until January 4 for their employees to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19. As an alternative to vaccination, employers have the option of requiring unvaccinated employees to wear a mask while at work and get tested weekly for the virus.

The vaccine mandate, outlined in requirements set by the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration, does not require employers to pay for the weekly testing if workers choose that option, unless required to do so by other laws or collective-bargaining agreements.

Vaccines are provided free by the federal government, but employers do have to provide paid leave for workers to get their shots and recover from any side effects of the vaccine.

The requirements for employers to pay time off for vaccines and to require masks for the unvaccinated start December 5. The weekly testing requirement for unvaccinated workers begins after January 4.

The rules say employees must have both Pfizer or Moderna shots or the one Johnson & Johnson shot by January 4 to be considered vaccinated, or face weekly testing. Businesses whose employees opt for testing must ensure those workers are masked at the workplace and have negative tests weekly.

The administration says that the “new rules preempt any inconsistent state or local laws, including laws that ban or limit an employer’s authority to require vaccination, masks, or testing.” (Governors in Texas and Florida have vowed to prevent the mandate from taking effect in their states, setting up a potential legal battle.) The January 4 deadline will also be the same for federal contractors; however, those businesses will not be subject to the new OSHA rules but will remain under the federal-contractor vaccine requirements.

The administration says the vaccine mandate is not only good for public health and safety but for the economy.

“Vaccination requirements have increased vaccination rates by more than 20 percentage points – to over 90 percent – across a wide range of businesses and organizations,” a White House statement says. “According to Wall Street analysts, vaccination requirements could result in as many as 5 million American workers going back to work, and a survey of prominent, independent economists found unanimous agreement that vaccination requirements will ‘promote a faster and stronger economic recovery.’”

The employer requirements for businesses with 100 or more employees will follow OSHA’s emergency temporary standard issued in summer. Employers are also subject to requirements for reporting and record-keeping in the OSHA temporary standard.

This rule governing businesses will cover 84 million employees, the administration says.

The same January 4 vaccination deadline has also been set for health care workers at facilities participating in Medicare and Medicaid. “The rule applies to more than 17 million workers at approximately 76,000 health care facilities, including hospitals and long-term care facilities,” the administration says.    

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