What you need to know about the US worker COVID-19 vaccine mandate

Millions of U.S. workers now have a Jan 4. deadline to get a COVID vaccine
Sign notifies customers that COVID-19 vaccinations are available at a pharmacy
Sign notifies customers that COVID-19 vaccinations are available at a pharmacy Photo credit AP Photo/David Zalubowski

Millions of U.S. workers now have a Jan 4. deadline to get a COVID vaccine.

The federal government on Thursday announced new vaccine requirements for workers at companies with more than 100 employees as well as for workers at health care facilities that treat Medicare and Medicaid patients. It also extended a deadline for federal contractors.

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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations will force the companies to require that unvaccinated workers test negative for COVID-19 at least once a week and wear a mask while in the workplace.

Tougher rules will apply to another 17 million people who work in nursing homes, hospitals and other facilities that receive money from Medicare and Medicaid. Those workers will not have an option for testing — they will need to be vaccinated.

The Biden administration says 70% of all adult Americans are now fully vaccinated. The new rules are aimed at the tens of millions who remain unvaccinated.

Here are the key takeaways:

WHAT DO COMPANIES HAVE TO DO?

Companies with 100 or more employees must require those workers to get fully vaccinated — with two shots of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, or one shot of Johnson & Johnson — by Jan. 4. After that date, any employee who remains unvaccinated must provide a verified negative COVID test weekly. Companies aren't required to pay for those tests. Unvaccinated employees also must wear masks.

WILL WORKERS GET TIME OFF TO GET VACCINATED?

Starting Dec. 5, employers must offer paid time off for workers to get vaccinated and sick leave if workers experience vaccine side effects.

HOW WILL THIS BE ENFORCED?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration will assist companies with vaccination plans. It will also enforce the rules. Fines for non-compliance will vary based on a company's size and other factors. A company might have to pay up to $13,653 per individual violator or up to $136,532 for willful violation of the rules.

WHAT ARE THE RULES FOR HEALTH CARE WORKERS?

Workers at health care facilities that treat Medicaid and Medicare patients must be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4. There is no weekly testing option for those workers, but they can ask for religious or medical exemptions. The mandate will cover about 17 million health care workers at hospitals, nursing homes, surgical centers and other facilities.

WHAT ABOUT FEDERAL CONTRACTORS?

In September, the Biden administration said it would require employees at federal contractors to get vaccinated by Dec. 8. On Thursday, the government pushed back that deadline to Jan. 4.

WHAT IF YOU WORK FROM HOME?

The OSHA mandatory vaccination and testing policy does not apply to people who exclusively work from home, nor does not apply to those who work exclusively outdoors. However, both telework and outdoor workers will be included in a company’s total number of employees.

OSHA has posted a full FAQ section for employees and employers on its website.

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