A federal appeals court on Friday reinstated President Joe Biden's vaccine-or-testing mandate for large companies, handing a rare legal victory to the White House in efforts to implement a key component of its Covid strategy.
In a 2-1 ruling, the panel for the Ohio-based Sixth Circuit said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration workplace order for businesses with at least 100 employees was valid. OSHA's order is being challenged by a coalition of states, businesses and industry groups.
“The record establishes that COVID-19 has continued to spread, mutate, kill, and block the safe return of American workers to their jobs. To protect workers, OSHA can and must be able to respond to dangers as they evolve,” said Judge Jane B. Stranch in her opinion, which was joined by Judge Julia Smith Gibbons.
Business groups swiftly filed an appeal to the Supreme Court Friday evening.
Businesses with 100 or more employees must ensure their workforces are fully vaccinated, or require workers who aren't vaccinated to wear masks and show negative Covid test results at least once a week. Employers can face fines for not complying.
OSHA said Saturday that it would not issue citations tied to its coronavirus vaccination mandate before Jan. 10, so that companies have time to adjust to and implement the requirements. The federal agency separately said there would be no citations of companies regarding its testing requirements before Feb. 9.
The mandate was previously slated to take effect Jan. 4.
Several GOP-led states and business groups are involved in the lawsuit challenging the rule, arguing that it exposes companies to financial risk for refusing to comply, and threatens their workforces.
The appeals court on Friday disputed that argument.
"The claim that COVID-19 exists outside the workplace and thus is not a grave danger in the workplace is equally unavailing. As discussed above, OSHA routinely regulates hazards that exist both inside and outside the workplace," the court wrote. "More to the point, OSHA here demonstrated with substantial evidence that the nature of the workplace—commonplace across the country and in virtually every industry—presents a heightened risk of exposure."
The lawsuit was led by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, and joined by fellow Republican attorneys general in Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Tennessee and West Virginia.
Yost's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.
The ruling comes a month after a federal appeals court in Louisiana blocked the requirement for large businesses. In that lawsuit, a group of companies, states and individuals, also sought an injunction, arguing that OSHA overstepped its authority by issuing the sweeping mandate and that the coronavirus was not a workplace hazard.
It also comes as the omicron variant has sparked a surge in Covid cases, forcing some businesses to temporarily close or scale back operations.
Judge Joan Larsen issued a dissent in Friday's ruling, arguing that "the Secretary of Labor lacks statutory authority to issue the mandate."
OSHA is a division of the Labor Department.
There are several legal challenges to other components of the administration's Covid strategy, including vaccine requirements for health workers and federal contractors.