COVID vaccine mandate: Here’s what the Supreme Court ruling on the vaccine rule means for employees and employers

PHILADELPHIA — The Supreme Court has halted a major push by the Biden administration to increase the nation’s vaccination rate against COVID-19, a requirement that employees of large corporations get vaccinated or tested regularly and wear a mask at work.

At the same time, the court authorizes the administration to proceed with a vaccination mandate for most health care workers in the United States. The court orders came Thursday amid a spike in coronavirus cases caused by the omicron variant.

The court’s conservative majority found that the administration exceeded its authority by seeking to impose the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s vaccine or test rule on U.S. businesses with at least 100 employees. More than 80 million people are believed to have been affected, and OSHA estimated the rule would save 6,500 lives and prevent 250,000 hospitalizations over six months.

SEE ALSO: SCOTUS blocks vaccine or test rule for businesses, but mandate remains for healthcare workers

Ann Juliano, professor of law at Villanova University, explained what this means for employees and employers.

“Employers always have the option of requiring their employees to be vaccinated,” Juliano said.

Employees should refer to what their company policy includes.

“Employers who may have been counting on the federal government to make them do this, they no longer have that as an excuse. If you’re an employee of a company that said, ‘It’s not us, it’s the feds, they’re forcing us to do this’ — that’s no longer in effect,” Juliano said.

The vaccine mandate the court will allow to be enforced nationwide by a 5-4 vote, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh joining the Liberals to form a majority.

The mandate covers virtually all healthcare workers nationwide, applying to providers who receive federal funding from Medicare or Medicaid. It affects 10.4 million workers in 76,000 health facilities as well as home care providers. The rule has medical and religious exemptions.

President Biden said the court’s decision will “save lives”.

The decision comes as health systems face shortages which several nursing unions say ultimately affect patient care.

6abc Action News spoke with Carlos Aviles, Chair of Technical Professionals at Temple University Hospital.

“The new CDC guidelines don’t protect front-line healthcare workers who come to work every day. They require us to come back after five days, whether we’re asymptomatic, no matter how we feel. We think that’s is why staffing has become more critical,” Aviles said.

Mary Adamson, president of the Temple University Nurses Association, added, “It’s already a crisis. Staffing levels have gotten so bad that we’re really struggling every day.”

Some business groups like the New Jersey Business and Industry Association welcomed the decision.

“We are happy to hear this from the Supreme Court because we felt it was a definite excess,” said Michele Sikerka, president of the association.

She says the mandate would have placed a huge burden on New Jersey businesses.

SEE ALSO: NJ Governor Murphy restores public health emergency in fight against omicron variant

“Right now we have an unprecedented hiring and retention crisis here in the state of New Jersey,” Sikerka said.

“We are still the third highest unemployment rate in the country. This would have made it even more difficult for our employers to retain, retain and recruit employees,” she added.

According to the 6abc data journalism team, since Jan. 10, the tri-state area has seen the highest number of COVID-19 patient hospitalizations on record. This also includes people admitted for other reasons who later tested positive for COVID-19.

Biden said he was “disappointed that the Supreme Court chose to block vital common-sense requirements for employees of large corporations that were squarely based on both science and law.”

Biden called on companies to institute their own vaccination requirements, noting that a third of Fortune 100 companies have already done so.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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