Supreme Court Blocks Nationwide Vaccine and Testing Mandate for Large Employers

On January 13, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court issued the much anticipated decision blocking a nationwide vaccine and testing mandate for large employers. The Secretary of Labor, acting through OSHA, enacted a vaccine mandate for employer with more than 100 employees. The Court noted that OSHA has never before imposed such a mandate. Additionally, while Congress had enacted significant legislation addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress declined to enact any of the measures OSHA attempted to implement.

The Fifth Circuit initially stayed the mandate but after cases were consolidated before the Sixth Circuit, the court lifted the stay and allowed the mandate to go into effect. Various parties filed applications for immediate emergency relief before the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that OSHA’s mandate exceeded its statutory authority and was otherwise unlawful. The Court agreed that the applicants would likely prevail on the merits and granted the emergency relief staying the rule.

The Court explained that the question was whether the Act plainly authorizes the Secretary of Labor’s mandate. The Court stated “[i]t does not. The Act empowers the Secretary to set workplace safety standards, not broad public health measures.” The Court acknowledged that the Solicitor General did not dispute that OSHA is limited to regulating “work-related dangers” and but she claimed that contracting COVID-19 qualified as such a danger. The Court found this argument meritless stating “[a]though COVID-19 is a risk that occurs in many workplaces, it is not an occupational hazard in most.” The Court further explained that OSHA does not have the regulatory authority without clear Congressional authorization to regulate the hazards of daily life and cited to the fact that the Senate, by majority vote, had disapproved the regulation on Dec. 8, 2021.

The Court held that “[a]lthough Congress has indisputably given OSHA the power to regulate occupational dangers, it has not given that agency the power to regulate public health more broadly. Requiring the vaccination of 84 million Americans, selected simply because they work for employers with more than 100 employees, certainly falls in the latter category.” As a result, the mandate is stayed pending the outcome of the Sixth Circuit reviewing the matters on its merits.

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