Gloved hands signing vaccination card

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A COVID-19 vaccine mandate forecast to affect more than 80 million workers in private-sector businesses is inching closer to reality after the Labor Department submitted its initial text of an emergency temporary standard to the White House late Tuesday for review.

As part of President Biden’s six-point COVID-19 action plan announced Sept. 9, employers with 100 or more workers soon will be required to ensure that their workforces are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, or workers will need to produce a negative COVID test result at least weekly before coming to work. 

The proposed rule also will require covered businesses to give workers paid time off to get vaccinated and to recover from any side effects from vaccination.

Senior living advocates applauded the requirements when they were first announced last month, saying the mandates would create a consistent standard and give older adults greater protection no matter where they receive care.

Argentum President and CEO James Balda told McKnight’s Senior Living that the organization supports employer COVID-19 vaccine mandates for the senior living workforce. The organization will work with the administration to ensure that the standard is implemented in a way that meets the “intention of increased vaccination without deterring from the care our seniors receive,” he said.

“We are concerned that the top-down, one-size-fits-all OSHA standard would add unnecessary red tape, create conflicting guidance with policies providers already follow at the state and local level, and ultimately take away critically needed resources from resident care due to administrative burdens this imposes — all at a time when assisted living caregivers have received little to no federal COVID relief,” Balda said. 

David Schless, president of the American Seniors Housing Association, agreed that senior living companies need options to avoid further undermining their efforts to staff their communities.

“Since the pandemic, the industry’s workforce challenges have increased significantly, making it hard to impose vaccine mandates on all employees in every community across the country. Further, when states take steps to overrule these mandates, the legal environment becomes very cloudy,” Schless told McKnight’s Senior Living.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) recently banned businesses and private groups in the state from requiring employee vaccinations. 

“While the final rule has not yet been published, we hope the White House will address the inconsistencies that can place an employer in jeopardy for legal liability,” Schless said.

The emergency temporary standard is expected to be issued soon, meaning employers will need to decide whether to allow for a testing option, how to handle religious or medical accommodation requests, and what effects a mandate may have on the workforce.

Legal experts expect challenges to the mandate but said the law is on Biden’s side.

The emergency temporary standard will take effect once the White House Office of Management and Budget completes its review and the final standard is published in the Federal Register. Law firm Fisher Phillips speculated that the standard will be approved by today and then published by the end of the month.

“The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been working expeditiously to develop an emergency temporary standard that covers employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workers are fully vaccinated or undergo weekly testing to protect employees from the spread of coronavirus in the workplace,” a U.S. Department of Labor spokesperson said in a statement. 

Biden also instructed the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to develop a rule requiring workers in healthcare settings that receive Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements to implement vaccination and testing protocols. The action builds on the vaccination requirement for nursing homes announced in August.

CMS reportedly submitted language for the interim final rule to the Office of Management and Budget on Wednesday.