The Supreme Court on Thursday blocked President Joe Biden’s workplace vaccine-or-test mandate but upheld the Department of Health and Human Services requirement for certain healthcare workers.
The conservative majority on the court ruled 6-3 to block the vaccine-or-test mandate for employees of big businesses, saying the secretary of the Labor Department “lacked authority to impose the mandate,” adding that the decision should be left up to Congress. Justices ruled 5-4 to keep the health care worker mandate, both Chief Justice John Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh voting to keep it in place.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration workplace mandate went into effect on Jan. 4 and began enforcement on Monday, requiring unvaccinated employees of companies with 100 or more employees to begin wearing masks indoors. A vaccine-or-test requirement was slated to go into effect on Feb. 9 requiring workers who have not been fully vaccinated to be subjected to weekly testing.
A healthcare vaccine mandate enforced by the Department of Health and Human Services will remain in effect, requiring healthcare workers of facilities that take Medicare or Medicaid payments to be fully vaccinated.
Challengers of the mandate included a coalition of Republican state governments and business groups arguing the federal government lacked proper authority to impose the policies without approval from congress. Those against the mandate also claimed it would lead to widespread staffing shortages.
“Today’s decision is welcome relief for America’s small businesses, who are still trying to get their business back on track since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Karen Harned, Executive Director of National Federation of Independent Business, one of the plaintiffs joining the lawsuit against the OSHA mandate.
The OSHA mandate also carried penalties for employers who failed to enforce the requirement on staff, noting a nearly $14,000 fine would be imposed for each offense. It was not immediately clear how OSHA intended to enforce the requirement on individual businesses.
Federal health officials have said healthcare workers will be required to receive a single COVID-19 vaccine dose by Jan. 27 and must be fully vaccinated by Feb. 28 under the HHS mandate.
During oral arguments Friday, Roberts conceded to Justice Department Principal Deputy Solicitor General Brian Fletcher’s argument that the COVID-19 pandemic presents a more “acute” risk to patients than the risk associated with general workers or federal contractors.
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to request for comment.