By Ray Melick, Editor in Chief

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued binding federal requirements today for COVID-19 vaccines or required weekly testing for employers with 100 or more employees.

Under these guidelines, employers have until Jan. 4 to ensure their workers are vaccinated or will be tested weekly for COVID. The requirements by President Joe Biden’s administration will cover an estimated 80 million workers.

Employers who don’t adhere to the requirements could face penalties of up to around $14,000 per violation.

Additionally, the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced a requirement that healthcare workers at facilities participating in Medicare and Medicaid are fully vaccinated. The rule applies to more than 17 million workers at approximately 76,000 health care facilities, including hospitals and long-term care facilities.

The Biden administration previously implemented policies requiring millions of federal employees and federal contractors to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 8. However, the Administration announced Thursday that the deadline for workers to receive their shots will be the same for the OSHA rule, the CMA rule, and the previously announced federal contractor requirement, changed to the Jan. 4, 2022 date.

More than two dozen Republicans serving as state attorneys general have indicated they plan to sue, arguing that only Congress can enact such sweeping requirements under emergency authority.

Last week, 19 states – including Alabama - sued to stop the President’s narrower mandate that employees of federal contractors be vaccinated. That requirement was scheduled to take effect on Dec. 8, but the administration said Thursday it will be delayed until Jan. 4 to match the requirements on other large employers and health care providers.

According to a fact sheet issued by OSHA, while the testing requirement for unvaccinated workers will begin after Jan. 4, employers must be in compliance with all other requirements – such as providing paid time for employees to get vaccinated and masking for unvaccinated workers – on Dec. 5. The Administration is calling on all employers to step up and make these changes as quickly as possible.

Major employers subject to the rules must ensure that employees who aren’t vaccinated against COVID-19 produce a weekly negative test and wear a mask in the workplace. Employers aren’t required under the new policy to provide or pay for tests unless collective bargaining agreements compel them to do so.

Workers will be able to ask for exemptions on medical or religious grounds.

Earlier this week, the Alabama Senate approved two pieces of legislation that would severely limit the ability of employers and schools to carry out Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Both bills passed the Senate after a lengthy debate and have been forwarded to the Alabama House of Representatives.

Some companies have expressed fear that some vaccine-hesitant workers might quit, leaving their workforces even thinner, in what is already a tight labor market.

The Associated Press contributed to this report