CORONAVIRUS

Utah files suit over vaccine mandate as local businesses put plan in place

Nov 6, 2021, 10:07 PM

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah has officially joined four states — Texas, Mississippi, South Carolina and Louisiana — in suing the Biden administration over their new COVID-19 vaccines or testing requirements for businesses.

The lawsuit, filed by Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, is trying to stop the policy, which goes into effect January 4, 2022.

In a press release announcing the lawsuit on Friday, Reyes said,

“President Biden can act like an autocrat, but America is not a totalitarian state and he is not a king. He egregiously oversteps his authority here. And we will remind him of the constitutional limits to his power.

Today, we filed suit on President Biden’s mandate to federal contractors. We are prepared to fight all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.

And if he makes good on his threat to impose a mandate on small businesses through OSHA, we will sue him again.

I am vaccinated. And I believe vaccines can be a powerful tool in the fight against COVID, especially for those without natural immunity.

But vaccines are purposely invasive and the choice to get one is extremely personal. No government body should be forcing that medical decision on its citizens.”

The new policy includes regulations for businesses with more than 100 employees, but until we get official word from the courts, legal experts say be prepared.

“You know, we’ve really seen clients all over the board,” said Tyson Horrocks, of counsel employment law attorney at Holland and Hart, LLP. “We’ve seen some clients that are really upset about it — about the vaccine and the mandate and feel that it should be up to a business to choose. We have other clients that have wanted to implement a policy, but are concerned about how their employees will react to it, and so now, it’s an opportunity to say, ‘Look, we’re required to do this and so we’re doing it.’”

Overall, Horrocks said the majority of his clients are not happy about the new policy, which would require all businesses with more than 100 employees on the payroll — including part-timers — to implement a vaccine mandate or weekly testing and masking for employees.

The rule is expected to impact about 84-million workers.

“It comes in and tells employers with 100 or more employees that they have until Jan. 4 to implement either a policy requiring vaccinations in the workplace, or implement a policy that allows for either vaccinations or weekly testing,” said Horrocks.

“Most don’t like the idea of a mandate being in place, the government telling them they have to do something,” he said, “but a lot are willing to go along with it.”

Horrocks said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is tasked with enforcing the new policy.

According to White House officials, fines for serious citation violations start at $13,653 per item that is cited and can reach $136,532 for willful penalties.

Moreover, Utah businesses that opt for weekly testing and masking are not required to pay for an employee’s weekly test, according to Horrocks, but they are required to provide paid time off for employees who wish to get vaccinated.

“They’re definitely not playing around,” said Horrocks. “One of the concerns people have, though, is how is OSHA going to enforce this? It’s going to take a lot of manpower.”

Unless a legal decision is made by the courts, Horrocks is encouraging his clients to have a plan in place starting Jan. 4.

“I think it will ultimately come into law, unless stopped by a court,” he said.

There are some exclusions for outdoor workers, including some in the construction industry, and exemptions for religious and health reasons that employers need to plan for. However, it’s a gray area, and Horrocks suggests checking in with an attorney.

The Biden Administration’s new policy also includes a second mandate, which requires healthcare workers at all facilities providing Medicare and Medicaid Services to be fully vaccinated by the same Jan. 4 deadline.

This would impact an additional 17-million healthcare workers.

On Saturday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals notified Reyes that OSHA’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate is stayed, or on hold.

Utah is one of five states and several private parties that petitioned the court for review of the mandate, according to a press release issued by Reyes’ office.

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Utah files suit over vaccine mandate as local businesses put plan in place