Thank you to my colleagues Jonathan Schaefer and Abby Warren for their contributions to this post.
We take a break from our regularly scheduled “2022 outlook” programming to bring you breaking news on the seesaw that is the enforcement of OSHA’s Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) regarding COVID-19 vaccination or testing. As we previously reported, it was on, then it was off. Then it was on, and now it is off again. Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court reinstated the stay of OSHA’s ETS, ultimately sending the rule back to the Sixth Circuit to await a full review on the merits.
In the 6-3 opinion, the Supreme Court held that, while OSHA has the authority to regulate “occupational dangers,” it does not have the authority to regulate “public health more broadly.” The Supreme Court held that, while COVID-19 might be present in workplaces, it is not necessarily an occupational hazard in most. “Permitting OSHA to regulate the hazards of daily life—simply because most Americans have jobs and face those same risks while on the clock—would significantly expand OSHA’s regulatory authority without clear congressional authorization.”
While the ultimate fate of OSHA’s ETS will continue to play out in the courtroom, U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh released a statement urging employers to require workers to get vaccinated or tested weekly. Secretary Walsh also referenced OSHA’s existing COVID-19 guidance as a resource for employers to keep workers safe from COVID-19. Secretary Walsh concluded by saying:
“Regardless of the ultimate outcome of these proceedings, OSHA will do everything in its existing authority to hold businesses accountable for protecting workers, including under the Covid-19 National Emphasis Program and General Duty Clause.”
Manufacturers should continue to monitor the fate of the OSHA ETS as it heads back to the Sixth Circuit. In addition, the Executive Order related to COVID-19 vaccination/testing for federal contractors that we previously summarized, while currently stayed, may be reinitiated as well. Manufacturers should continue to monitor legal developments related to the Executive Order.