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On The Front Lines

Supreme Court Blocks COVID-19 Vaccine-or-Test Mandate for Workers at Large Companies, Allows Vaccine Mandate for Healthcare Workers

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a pair of mixed rulings, the U.S. Supreme Court has temporarily halted the Biden Administration’s COVID-19 vaccine-or-test mandate imposed on the nation’s largest employers while allowing a similar vaccine mandate to proceed for healthcare workers.

In a 6-3 ruling in National Federation of Independent Business v. Department of Labor, the Supreme Court acknowledged that OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) may have exceeded its authority when it ordered companies with 100 or more workers to require that employees receive a COVID-19 vaccine or be tested weekly and wear face masks. The Court noted that “Although COVID-19 is a risk that occurs in many workplaces, it is not an occupational hazard in most. COVID–19 can and does spread at home, in schools, during sporting events, and everywhere else that people gather. That kind of universal risk is no different from the day-to-day dangers that all face from crime, air pollution, or any number of communicable diseases.” However, in Biden v. Missouri, a 5-4 Court ruled that the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) has the statutory authority to require that healthcare providers comply with the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for their employees as a condition of receiving Medicare and Medicaid funding.

“These rulings reinforce the haphazard state of affairs right now when it comes to these COVID-19 vaccine mandates,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “At a time when COVID-19 cases are surging even among the vaccinated, causing the efficacy of the vaccines and boosters to be called into question, the government and private employers need to reconsider the heavy-handed nature of these mandates, which violate every constitutional safeguard for privacy, bodily integrity and religious freedom.”

In November 2021, OSHA issued an emergency temporary standard ordering large companies (with 100 or more workers) to require their employees to either receive a COVID-19 vaccination or obtain weekly negative coronavirus test results, at their own expense and on their own time, and wear face coverings to work. The OSHA rule, which was supposed to take effect on Jan. 4, 2022, impacts more than 80 million workers. A similar mandate, issued by HHS, requires more than 10 million health-care workers at 76,000 facilities that receive federal Medicare and Medicaid funding to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Although healthcare workers were not given a choice of being tested as an alternative to vaccination, they do have the option of applying for a religious or medical exemption. In blocking the OSHA vaccine-or-test mandate while allowing the healthcare worker mandate to remain in effect, the U.S. Supreme Court differentiated between the two cases, reasoning that OSHA’s vaccine mandate constituted an overreach of its authority over occupational workplace safety, while HHS’s mandate is in keeping with its authority in protecting the health and safety of Medicaid and Medicare recipients. Rutherford Institute attorneys warn that although the OSHA rule cannot be imposed on businesses at this time, employers can still on their own initiative require employees to be vaccinated if there are no state laws prohibiting such mandates. However, employees seeking religious or medical exemptions to COVID-19 vaccine mandates may still be able to request such accommodations.

The Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties organization, provides legal assistance at no charge to individuals whose constitutional rights have been threatened or violated and educates the public on a wide spectrum of issues affecting their freedoms.

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