Biden administration reveals details of federal vaccination requirement

Restaurants and other large employers have until Jan. 4 to get their workers vaccinated. Employees who refuse will have to wear masks at work starting Dec. 5. The government says it's already looking to expand the scope to include smaller enterprises.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Restaurant companies and other businesses with at least 100 employees have until Jan. 4 to ensure their workers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the White House announced Thursday, adding the specifics to a broad plan first revealed in early September.

Employees who balk at getting the shots can still keep their jobs by testing negative “on at least a weekly basis” for coronavirus, the emergency order specifies. Employers are not required by the federal directive to pay for the tests, though the administration noted that state laws and collective bargaining agreements could impose the obligation. It also noted that companies can volunteer to foot the bill.

Regardless, the employer is required to keep records of the vaccinations and tests.

The 100-employee mandate is based on headcounts, not full-time equivalents (FTEs). If a business has 75 full timers and 25 part-timers, it is still covered by the requirement.

In addition, the count is per employer, not per outlet of a multi-location business like a restaurant chain. An operator of two restaurants, each with 50 employees, would be required to comply. Seasonal workers also figure into the count,

Starting Dec. 5, all unvaccinated employees at qualifying companies will be required to wear facemasks during their entire time at a workplace.

On that date, qualifying employers will be required to provide up to four hours of paid leave time for employees to get vaccinated during their workday. If a newly vaccinated worker should have a bad reaction to the shots, the business is also mandated to pay the worker for worktime they miss because of the inoculation’s ill effects.

Although the new responsibilities only apply currently to businesses employing at least 100 people, the federal agency empowered to enforce the new requirements is already looking to expand the mandate to smaller businesses. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said it is already gathering input on how to extend the obligation to those enterprises.

Even without that expansion, the White House expects two-thirds of the nation’s businesses and 100 million workers to be covered.

The details aired Thursday morning add flesh to the skeleton details President Biden revealed on Sept. 9 as part of a then-new six-part plan to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Update: This story has been updated to include information about how the 100-person count is calculated.

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