As a federal appeals court debates the constitutionality of the Biden government’s vaccination requirement for businesses with at least 100 employees, Ohio companies are preparing to enforce it.
“If you’re a company with more than 100 employees, you need to prepare as this goes into effect,” said Kevin Shimp, general counsel for the Ohio Chamber of Commerce.
The requirement comes from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and states that employees of eligible companies must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly tests by January 4. And all unvaccinated workers will be required to wear masks to work from Dec. 5.
The fine — if it passes legal scrutiny — would be $14,000 per violation.
Here’s what you need to know:
Ohio law wouldn’t matter: Two bills introduced by Republicans in the Ohio House that would prevent companies from demanding vaccinations have stalled. But even if they were part of Ohio’s code, the temporary emergency standard would replace them.
If the OSHA rule is defeated in court, companies would have to follow Ohio law, which currently allows employers to require vaccination.
You can request an exemption: Employees can request medical or religious waivers, but employers can require verification.
You may be asked about your faith: Employers can’t directly question the sincerity of your religious beliefs, Shimp said, “But they can question your past behavior regarding those beliefs.”
For example, if an employee objects that fetal cells were used in the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, the employer may ask him or her to sign a document stating that they are not taking other drugs that rely on fetal cell tests such as Tylenol, aspirin, Tums or Claritin.
When in doubt, use this formBusinesses planning to investigate their employees’ religious claims can use the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s own religious accommodation application form, Shimp said. It’s the federal agency that handles disputes between employees and their employers, so “that’s probably best practice.”
Employers could be addicted to fake vaccine cards: The Ohio Chamber has asked the White House and the Department of Labor to make companies harmless for employee misconduct.
“We felt that employers should not be in a position to verify if an employee has given them a false vaccination card,” Shimp said. But it was not part of OSHA’s temporary emergency standard issued earlier this month. So it’s unclear whether OSHA would fine the employer in cases where the employee used a counterfeit card.
Likewise, employees who misrepresent their vaccination status could face criminal charges under OSHA rules.
Ohio’s small businesses are not participating: The Ohio branch of the National Federation of Independent Businesses said 99% of its members do not have 100 employees.
“At the more individualized company level, more than 80% of respondents in our latest survey of NFIB members in Ohio said they don’t even ask if employees are vaccinated,” said NFIB Ohio spokesman Andy Patterson.
The Ohio Chamber offers support: The advocacy group has scheduled a free “Business Academy webinar” on the federal mandate for Nov. 16. Participants do not have to be a member of parliament.
“We are looking into developing a testing program with Quest Diagnostics to help companies comply, in case the mandate is not overturned by the courts,” said spokesman Courtney Whetstone.
More and more companies are mandating vaccination: Nationwide, a September Gallup poll found that 19% of the US said their employer already had a policy in place. That number was 9% in August and 6% in July.
Anna Staver is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal, and 18 other affiliate news organizations throughout Ohio.