A Discussion on OSHA Vaccine Mandates

By Abdiel Vallejo-Lopez

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) earlier this month, establishing national COVID-19 vaccination and testing requirements for employers with 100+ employees.

The ETS requires employers to implement and enforce a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy or weekly testing and face covering at the workplace for those who forgo vaccination. The mandate also requires employers to determine proof of vaccination for each vaccinated employee and support vaccination efforts by providing employees with reasonable time to receive each primary dose, with reasonable time and paid sick leave to recover from any side effects. The ETS gives employers a 30-day deadline to comply with most mandated provisions and 60 days to meet vaccine requirements.

Shortly after the mandate announcement, Justin Groenert, Vice President, Public Policy, Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce, and Justin Furrow, Shareholder Labor and Employment Law Attorney, Chambliss, Bahner and Stophel, discussed what this means for Tennessee employers. Beginning with an ETS overview and possible exceptions for employers working isolated or remote positions, Furrow then discussed the injunction on November 6 by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to temporarily halt OSHA mandates until review.

As Furrow explains, Tennessee is one of 22 states within OSHA’s State Plan program with federal approval to run its own occupational safety and health programs. While this status gives Tennessee more autonomy over the safety of its private and government workers, it also requires that the state’s safety programs are as effective as OSHA standards. Under States Plan, the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration (TOSHA) would have 30 days from the federal ETS to implement its own state standards. While no plan has been set by TOSHA as of this article, the Tennessee Senate and House has recently passed legislation to address vaccine and mask mandates.

The discussion ended with Furrow speculating on potential future scenarios. While there’s still a lot of uncertainty about federal mandates, Furrow explained these regulations could potentially dissipate if vaccination rates increase.

Hamilton County vaccination rates are now over 50%. Through the Healthy Chattanooga Coalition, our Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce aims to see vaccination rates reach 60% by December.

Find the full interview here.