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Biden employer vaccine mandate could be finalized as early as next week

A rule requiring that employers ensure workers are vaccinated or regularly tested would apply to companies with 100 employees or more, and apply to 80 million workers.
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WASHINGTON — The Biden administration’s requirement that companies ensure workers are vaccinated or tested regularly for Covid could be finalized as early as next week, pending a final White House review, according to a person familiar with the process.

The Labor Department said it had submitted the initial text of the rule, which would require employers with 100 or more workers to ensure that their employees are vaccinated or tested regularly, on late Tuesday to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). That review process generally takes one to two weeks, but given the urgency of the pandemic it is expected that the OMB will move quickly, the person said.

Since President Joe Biden announced the plans on Sept. 10, White House officials and aides from the Labor Department have been discussing how to craft the requirement, administration officials have said. There have been dozens of questions for officials to resolve, including how employers will verify their workers are vaccinated, who will bear the cost of weekly testing, what type of test will be required, and how employees working from home will be handled.

“Just last month, we said it was coming in weeks. That remains the case, and when it's out, that will be accurate,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday, when asked about the timing. “But also, there isn't a big historic precedent for this and we want to get it right, and the team at OSHA, the team at the Department of Labor wants to get it right, wants to be able to create some clarity for businesses around the country.”

Once OMB concludes its review, the full regulation will be published in the Federal Register, where employers will be able to see for the first time the details of what will be required of them. Under law, OMB has 90 days to complete its review or ask for an extension, but Psaki and other administration officials have said since September that the mandate would be coming in a matter of weeks not months.

“The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been working expeditiously to develop an emergency temporary standard that covers employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workers are fully vaccinated or undergo weekly testing to protect employees from the spread of coronavirus in the workplace,” the Labor Department said in a statement. “On Tuesday, October 12, as part of the regulatory review process, the agency submitted the initial text of the emergency temporary standard to the Office of Management and Budget.”

Former OSHA Director David Michaels, who is familiar with the process and deliberations, said the final approval of this rule could happen “very quickly or a couple weeks at most.”

Administration officials have said that vaccine mandates will be crucial to reaching some of the remaining 70 million unvaccinated Americans and that such requirements by individual companies had driven an increase in vaccinations.

More than 3,500 organizations, including private businesses, hospitals, schools and local governments have already put vaccination requirements in place and those requirements have increased vaccination rates by more than 20 percentage points to more than 90 percent, White House Covid coordinator Jeffrey Zients said Wednesday.

But questions remain over how the requirement will be enforced and whether it will be able to withstand planned legal challenges from two dozen Republican attorneys general. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration — which will be responsible for ensuring companies are following the rule — is already stretched thin, meaning that much of the burden of enforcement may fall on individuals and employers themselves.