A federal appeals court temporarily blocked the Biden administration’s new vaccine rule for large employers from moving forward on Saturday.
A group of companies sued the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Friday seeking an injunction against the rule. A panel of three judges with the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans did not rule on that request but issued a stay against the vaccine rule, saying there may be “grave statutory and constitutional issues with the Mandate.”
The court gave the Biden administration until 5 p.m. Monday to respond to the petitioners’ request for a permanent injunction that would block the rule from taking effect. The request was filed by a group of employers and Republican state attorneys general who argue the rule is unconstitutional.
The new rule is not really a mandate, since it allows workers to undergo weekly testing in lieu of being vaccinated against COVID-19. OSHA has given employers with at least 100 workers until Jan. 4 to implement and enforce vaccine-or-test programs for their workers. Those who fail to do so can be fined around $14,000 for “serious” violations and $137,000 for “willful or repeat” violations.
The Biden administration has argued that the vaccine rule is the best way to protect workers still at risk of getting seriously ill or dying from COVID-19. The regulation has been in the works for months and the lawsuit filed came as no surprise, since high-profile Republicans have vowed to fight it all along.
Two of the three judges who granted the stay Saturday were appointed by former President Donald Trump.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton celebrated the stay on Twitter, saying “the fight is not over and I will never stop resisting this Admin’s unconstitutional overreach!”
“The Biden administration has argued that the vaccine rule is the best way to protect workers still at risk of getting seriously ill or dying from COVID-19.”
The most significant parts of the vaccine rule are not set to take effect for several weeks. Employers subject to the rule will be required to enforce masking in the workplace by Dec. 4, and have their vaccine-or-test programs implemented by Jan. 4. OSHA officials explained Thursday that they wanted to give employers adequate time to prepare.
The White House estimates that the rule will cover 84 million workers, even though small employers will not be subject to it. OSHA officials said they believed larger employers had the administrative capacity to carry out the vaccine-or-test programs, though they have not ruled out extending the regulation to more workplaces after receiving public feedback.
Because the rule is what’s known as an “emergency temporary standard,” it has not gone through the typical rulemaking process that normally takes years. Occupational safety and health law gives OSHA the latitude to pursue such rules in emergencies, and agency officials argue that the regulation is on sound legal footing.
Jim Frederick, deputy assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, said during a press call Thursday that he expects most employers to follow the rule without issue.
“The vast majority of workplaces comply with OSHA standards,” he said.