Supreme Court Blocks President Biden’s Vaccine Mandate

    The Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration’s vaccine-or-test mandate for large employers, here’s what you need to know.

    On Thursday, January 13, the U.S. Supreme Court voted to block the Biden administration’s vaccine or testing mandate for large employers. This decision marks the end of the legal battle over the current iteration of the vaccine-or-test mandate.

    The court voted 6-3 to block the employer vaccine-or-test mandate. The Supreme Court approved a more limited mandate, which requires employees of healthcare facilities that receive federal funds to be vaccinated.

    President Biden first unveiled the “Path out of the Pandemic” on September 9, 2021. The key component of this plan was a vaccine-or-test mandate for all U.S. businesses which employ 100 or more employees. The mandate would have required all employees at these businesses to be vaccinated or tested weekly for COVID-19. Also included in the initial proposal was a requirement for all employees of healthcare facilities that receive federal money to be vaccinated.

    Following the initial announcement of the mandate, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) on November 4, 2021, which detailed the enforcement mechanism and penalties for businesses under the proposed vaccine-or-test mandate.

    Under the ETS, business employers with 100 or more employees would have to verify that all of their employees are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by January 4, 2022. Those individuals who are not fully vaccinated by January 4 would have to produce a verified negative test to their employers every week. The rule did not require employers to pay for the tests, though in some cases, agreements with unions might require employers to pay for tests for unvaccinated employees. Following the rule, employers would have to keep documentation of workers’ vaccination status as OSHA will actively inspect businesses.

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    The penalties for non-compliance with OSHA's ETS would have included fines based on the number of violations and could have ranged up to approximately $13,653 per serious violation.

    Shortly after the release of the ETS, on November 6, 2021, a three-judge panel on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the ruling. Following a request from the Biden administration, on December 17, 2021, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the Fifth Circuit and dissolved the stay on the vaccine-or-test mandate.

    Almost immediately after the ruling reinstating the mandate from the Sixth Circuit was released, legal challenges were brought by opponents of the vaccine-or-test mandate to the Supreme Court. The highest court agreed to hear the case and issued their decision on Thursday, January 13. In the majority opinion, the justices claimed that the vaccine-or-test mandate was ultimately too far-reaching. It would have impacted an estimated 80 million Americans, with the justices calling the mandate “a blunt instrument.”

    This decision by the Supreme Court means the end of the current iteration of the Biden administration’s push for vaccines. However, in the majority opinion, the justices did leave the door open for less broad vaccine mandates in the future. This decision means that for the foreseeable future, businesses are allowed to continue creating their own vaccination policies for their employees.

    It is also important to note that the decision by the Supreme Court does not impact state and local government’s power to require vaccinations in businesses or indoor places of public accommodation. The Supreme Court’s decision only blocked the federal vaccine-or-test mandate for large businesses.

    Even though the Biden administration’s vaccine-or-test mandate won’t be going into effect this month, it can be useful to consider how your club would have come into compliance with the mandates had they not been blocked by the Supreme Court. In a recent article on our website, Vaccine Mandates: 3 Lessons From the Flu to Help Guide the Way, Dennis Mathias, president and founder of RTS and former general manager of Healthplex Sports Club, shared his past experiences implementing a flu vaccine mandate in gyms affiliated with healthcare systems where flu vaccines were mandatory.

    We will continue to keep you updated on any further vaccine mandate developments that could impact the health and fitness industry.

    Author avatar

    Jake Landry

    Jake Landry previously served as IHRSA's Public Policy Assistant—a position that focused on monitoring legislation that affects the health club industry at the state and federal levels and writing legislative alerts and articles on issues that affect IHRSA members.