New York, N.Y. (January 14, 2022) - On January 13, 2022, the United States Supreme Court issued two important rulings. It barred enforcement of the COVID-19 vaccination-or-testing mandate for large businesses adopted by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), but endorsed a separate federal vaccine requirement for healthcare facilities.
In the first decision, issued in National Federation of Independent Business v. Department of Labor, the Court ruled 6-3 in reversing the ruling of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Court ruled that the parties urging that OSHA's mandate exceeded the permissible scope of its regulatory authority were likely to succeed in their lawsuit such that the rule should be stayed. The Court viewed COVID-19 as not presenting an "occupational hazard" in most workplaces. As a result, businesses should look to the applicable rules in the states in which they operate to determine what vaccination or testing obligations may apply. It remains to be determined what, if anything, OSHA may attempt to do regarding vaccination and testing requirements to protect employees going forward. It has authority under the General Duty Clause (29 U.S.C. Section 654) to take action to address recognized hazards in the workplace that may cause death or serious physical harm to employees, but there are obvious concerns now that whatever OSHA decides to do could be subject to a successful challenge.
In the second decision, issued in Biden v. Missouri, the Court ruled 5-4 that the Secretary of Health & Human Services' interim rule requiring vaccination for workers in healthcare facilities, including hospitals and nursing homes that accept money from the Medicare and Medicaid programs, was proper. The Court dissolved injunctions that lower courts had granted staying enforcement of the rule.
Further legislative, administrative, and judicial actions dealing with the ongoing pandemic are obviously anticipated.
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