On January 13, 2022, the Supreme Court, in a 6-3 opinion, blocked the Biden Administration’s vaccine and testing mandate aimed at large businesses with at least 100 employees. The mandate would have reached some 80 million individuals and would have required employers with 100 or more employees to ensure that their employees were fully vaccinated or undergo regular testing and wear a face covering at work. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), charged with protecting workplace safety, claimed that it had the authority to act under an emergency temporary standard meant to protect employees if they are exposed to a “grave danger.” There were exceptions for those with religious objections.
In ruling that OSHA overstepped its authority, the majority stated:
Although 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.
Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan issued a dissent, stating:
Today, we are not wise. In the face of a still-raging pandemic, this Court tells the agency charged with protecting worker safety that it may not do so in all the workplaces needed. As disease and death continue to mount, this Court tells the agency that it cannot respond in the most effective way possible.
Only a small percentage of the nation’s truck drivers would have been affected by the vaccine rule, which had been set to fully go into effect on Feb. 9. About 96% of motor carriers have no more than 25 drivers and would likely fall under the 100-employee threshold. In addition, OSHA said the rule would not apply to truck drivers who were alone in their cab.
In a separate 5-4 decision, the Court agreed that a rule mandating the vaccine for healthcare workers in facilities participating in Medicare or Medicaid “fits neatly within” the authority Congress has granted to HHS to impose conditions on federal funds.