UNC legal expert says future unclear for Biden vaccine mandate for workers at companies of 100+

Orange County News

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Court battles over the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine and testing mandate could last right up until – and possibly beyond – the January deadline announced last week, according to one legal expert in the Triangle.

The plan, enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, calls on companies with 100 or more employees to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for workers, or require weekly testing, by Jan. 4, 2022.

But after a federal appeals court late Friday granted an emergency injunction against the mandate, significant questions exist over what will happen with the requirements, said Jeffrey Hirsch, professor of labor and employment law at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Law.

“To be honest, it’s not entirely clear what’s going to happen,” Hirsch said.

In the stay issued by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Saturday, the court cited “grave statutory and constitutional issues with the mandate” presented by the plaintiffs.

Hirsch said historically, OSHA has had latitude to issue emergency orders in the interest of safety. Plenty of those orders have not held up in court, Hirsch said.

“In normal times I’d say OSHA might be in trouble just because their past record isn’t great. But COVID is different I think in a lot of ways,” he said, pointing to the worldwide impact of the pandemic.

If the mandate survives, Hirsch thinks it could have much to do with the fact the mandate is not an outright vaccine requirement – workers who do not want the shot are permitted under the orders to get tested weekly.

Still, he believes the mandate’s future could ultimately come down to politics and which particular court hears the case.

“It’s highly political, probably more than anything else OSHA has ever done,” Hirsch said. “And the political nature makes everything extremely uncertain.”

The court called on the Biden administration to file a response by 5 p.m. Monday.

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