Q&A: Biden’s power to mandate employee vaccination
On Sept. 9, President Joe Biden announced a six-pronged plan to combat a rise in COVID-19 cases that included federal vaccine mandates for roughly 100 million U.S. workers.
Included in the mandates is a requirement that any company employing 100 people or more must ensure that all workers are vaccinated or provide a negative COVID-19 test result at least once a week.
On Nov. 6, a federal appeals court suspended Biden’s vaccine requirement for private companies, stating there was “cause to believe there are grave statutory and constitutional issues with the mandate.”
We asked Lawrence O. Gostin, JD, director of the O’Neill Institute for National & Global Health Law at Georgetown University, some lingering questions about the rule and where things stand in the courts.
Healio: Can you explain the “emergency rule” the Biden administration used to mandate that companies with 100 or more employees require workers to be vaccinated or regularly tested?
Gostin: The Occupational Safety and Health Act gives the president, through the Department of Labor, power to set emergency standards for workplace safety. The president has relied on that law to issue the vaccine-or-test mandate.
Healio: Was it an overreach of the Biden administration’s authority?
Gostin: No, it is not an overreach. COVID-19 is a real emergency and is causing hospitalizations and deaths among American workers and their families. The tools the mandate addresses are all evidence based, including vaccinations, masks and testing.
Healio: Who halted the mandate?
Gostin: The Fifth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals placed a temporary hold on the mandate.
Healio: In your opinion, will the stay be lifted?
Gostin: I hope so. The mandate is clearly necessary to keep workers safe and to save lives. The president is acting well within the powers given to him under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
Healio: If it is not, what happens next?
Gostin: There is litigation in various federal circuit courts. I expect a split in the rulings, and ultimately, the case will end up at the U.S. Supreme Court.