Large employers across the country will soon have to their verify workers are either vaccinated against COVID or get tested weekly, with Minnesota now tasked with crafting a federally approved enforcement plan.
The White House Thursday said its new pandemic requirements, announced in September, will take effect Jan. 4, 2022. Come that date, every company in the U.S. with 100 or more employees will have to:
- Require its workers get vaccinated against COVID or submit to regular, weekly testing.
- Provide time off for those employees to get vaccinated.
- Mandate unvaccinated workers wear a mask while in the workplace.
The White House has said these new rules will cover about 84 million employees, with President Joe Biden in a statement saying: "The virus will not go away by itself, or because we wish it away: we have to act. Vaccination is the single best pathway out of this pandemic. And while I would have much preferred that requirements not become necessary, too many people remain unvaccinated for us to get out of this pandemic for good."
The virus continues to be widespread across the country, with CDC figures showing an average of 1,292 newly reported COVID deaths every day over the past month, accounting for 40,062 lost lives during that timeframe.
Minnesota OSHA, which is part of the state's Department of Labor and Industry, said Thursday it had received the federal emergency temporary standard, and is in the process of reviewing the new rule. The state has 15 days to tell OSHA about the actions it plans to take, and then another 30 days to officially adopt its own emergency temporary standard. The state's emergency temporary standard must be at least as strong as the federal policy when it comes to "enforcing safe and healthful working conditions," Minnesota OSHA said.
Large employers have to get moving much quicker. While the testing requirement won't begin until Jan. 4, large businesses have until Dec. 5 to meet the other requirements, such as mandating unvaccinated individuals wear a mask while in the workplace and providing paid time off for vaccinations, the White House said.
The standard will also apply Minnesota school districts with 100 or more employees.
Workers will be able to apply for an exemption related to a disability, medical condition or "sincerely held" religious belief. Companies that don't comply with the new rules will face financial penalties.
In addition to the new vaccine and testing requirements for large employers, the federal government is requiring all workers at health facilities that take part in Medicare or Medicaid to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4. There is no testing alternative for these workers.
Together, these rules will cover about two-thirds of the American workforce, the White House says.
Legal challenges are expected, with some critics lambasting the policy immediately after its announcement. That includes vaccine skeptic and Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen, who called for "civil disobedience" in response to the vaccination and testing rule.
Biden, in Thursday's statement, said work immunization requirements are "nothing new," nor is the adoption of workplace health and safety standards, saying while he "would have much preferred that requirements not become necessary, too many people remain unvaccinated for us to get out of this pandemic for good."
He continued: "There have been no 'mass firings' and worker shortages because of vaccination requirements. Despite what some predicted and falsely assert, vaccination requirements have broad public support."
A recent poll found about 5% of unvaccinated workers have left a job due to vaccine requirements, accounting for about 1% of all adults. Gallup earlier this fall found 56% of employees support COVID-related mandates, with 37% opposed.