On January 13, the United States Supreme Court rejected an emergency mandate implemented by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requiring all workers at businesses with 100 or more employees to get COVID-19 vaccinations. The emergency measure also required weekly COVID-19 testing for the unvaccinated and workplace mask protocols.
This decision, while timely and seemingly political, is the latest decision from the high court limiting the power of administrative agencies and narrowing the legislative scope of the federal government. The opinion does not take any position as to the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines or other public health measures, but rather, addresses interpretation of the role of the administrative body. Essentially, the Court opined that OSHA does not have the express delegation of authority from Congress to enact protocols related to a public health emergency. The holding of the majority opinion addressed this point, “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.” Furthermore, “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,” the court wrote.
This opinion should not be read to limit employer’s ability to regulate COVID-19 safety in the workplace including vaccine status and other protocols.
Michael J. Ash, Eq., CRE, is partner with Carlin & Ward.