After weeks on suspension, the Biden’s administration’s emergency COVID-19 vaccine-or-test rule for large employers will now go into effect after a federal appeals court in Cincinnati lifted another court’s order to withhold the ruling. The confusion might have been halted, but for some employers and workers alike, how to navigate this ruling remains a big concern.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) had on November 4 unveiled the ruling, which requires employers with 100 or more employees to implement compulsory COVID-19 vaccination for their employees or offer a weekly testing option for those who either refuse or are exempted from taking the shot. However, the ruling was met with fierce criticisms and resistance by several large employers and Republican attorneys general, who sued for the rule to be suspended.
The issue of safeguarding the health and safety of employees became a highly polarized political subject as the federal courts of appeals for the Fifth Circuit suspended the ruling over what it considered “grave statutory and constitutional” concerns, accusing the OSHA of overstepping its powers.
In its defense of the ruling, however, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit noted that the harm caused by keeping the emergency ruling frozen outweigh any harm that could occur from letting it go into effect. The court went ahead to dissolve the Fifth Circuit’s stay on the regulation, essentially on the grounds that the standard is a crucial step in curbing the spread of the deadly virus that has killed more than 800,000 people in the U.S and crippled several businesses.
The panel emphasized that OSHA had the power to regulate contagion as it affects the workplace, especially one of such magnitude as the ongoing pandemic.
“The record establishes that COVID-19 has continued to spread, mutate, kill, and block the safe return of American workers to their jobs,” according to the court. “To protect workers, OSHA can and must be able to respond to dangers as they evolve,” Judge Joan Larsen, one of the panel members said.
Essentially, this is a critical step in safeguarding the health and safety of workers and also reviving the economy. The pandemic has gone on for too long and has disrupted normalcy. If people do not take the vaccines, which have been proven to be effective against the virus and its emerging variants, routine testing is only reasonable if they are exempted on religious or medical grounds.
In fact, a strong COVID-19 policy is one of the top factors that attract employees to an organization as workers want to work for a company that prioritizes their health and safety, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Consequently, employers must redesign their COVID-19 policies to reflect the provisions of the OSHA ruling. This is the challenging part for many employers: understanding the nuances and contexts of the standard and drafting a policy that reflects them.
This policy needs to be clear on the rationale behind your decision, how it best serves the employees and the workplace, and what exemptions you are willing to accommodate under the law. For vaccinated employees, what are the measures set up to verify and authenticate their vaccine cards; and for employees that are exempted, what is the process flow for booking tests, retrieving test results, and verifying these results.
The ease of implementing the standards not only boost employee participation and attract more talent, it ensures workflow is not unnecessarily disrupted.
To help employers navigate the ruling, Global Healthcare Accreditation (GHA) has launched GHA For Business, compiled and designed by industry experts, experts in workplace wellness and safety, and health policy makers to ensure businesses create the right return-to-work policies in line with the OSHA rule.
GHA For Business includes guidelines and strategies to mitigate the COVID-19 contagion in the workplace. It is not just about the vaccine mandates, there is an array of strategies and measures to be implemented in the workplace to safeguard employee health and wellbeing.
GHA For Business Guidelines also help businesses draft return-to-work policies across all work models: remote, hybrid, or fully on-site models. It also provides employers with training on employee screening, monitoring, and emergency response framework in the event an unvaccinated worker tests positive for the virus.
The Accreditation, however, extends beyond COVID-19 mitigation to the broader strategy of improving employee health, wellbeing, and productivity. GHA also created the Organizational Resiliency Guidelines, designed for any organization focused on return-to-work strategies, sustaining a culture of resiliency, and developing the more purposeful vision, mission, and values around well-being.
"Our goal is to raise the bar and to serve as the trusted and reliable accreditation partner for organizations seeking improvement and validation of the tremendous work done to prioritize these crucial issues of safety, health, and well-being at an extremely challenging time. GHA serves as a curator and aggregator of the most up to date and reliable resources to help businesses thrive in an ever-evolving health safety risk environment," said Karen Timmons, CEO of Global Healthcare Accreditation and former CEO of Joint Commission International.
GHA also exposes these organizations to its global network of partners, including CLXHealth, with its digital platform, TrustAssure that helps employers verify and access COVID-19 vaccination and test documents all in one place. This tool allows for seamless COVID-19 mitigation operations including booking COVID tests and uploading of results.
Now that the OSHA rule on vaccine mandates for large employers has been reinstated, employers need to pivot workplace policies to integrate these standards. Employers need to demonstrate that the health and safety of their workers is top priority, and OSHA rule presents an opportunity.