Retailers

Businesses Will Have Until Jan. 4 to Comply with Vaccination Mandate

NRF, RILA criticize timing of new requirements amid holiday sales season and retail workforce shortages
COVID-19 vaccine
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Large grocers 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 refuse to get 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 multilocation business like a grocery chain. An operator of two grocery stores, each with 70 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 face masks 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.

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 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 announced Thursday morning helped flesh out the plan President Biden revealed on Sept. 9 as part of a then-new six-part initiative to combat the spread of COVID-19.

The National Retail Federation (NRF), in a statement from SVP of Government Relations David French, criticized the new requirements as burdensome at a time when retailers are coping with acute staff shortages amid the biggest sales season of the year. "Since the president’s announcement of the vaccine mandate for private industry, the seven-day average number of cases in the United States has plummeted by more than half," French said in a statement. "Nevertheless, the Biden administration has chosen to declare an 'emergency' and impose burdensome new requirements on retailers during the crucial holiday shopping season."

The Retail Industry Leaders Association, representing large retailers, echoed the NRF's timing concerns. 

"With the holiday season upon us and consumer demand expected to hit record levels, we requested a 90-day implementation timeline, which would have allowed employers more time to design and implement the new vaccine and testing requirements after the holidays," Michael Hanson, senior EVP for public affairs at RILA, said in a statement. "The current 60-day timeline doesn’t afford retail that opportunity."

Hanson continued: "Retail remains ready partners in the shared goal of increasing vaccination rates. However, the fines threatened in this order of $13,653 to $136,532 are unnecessary and unhelpfulit pits government against private employers instead of working with them to create a safe working environment."

Hanson said he hoped that OSHA would continue to work with retailers through "what is shaping up to be a hectic holiday season."

This story has been updated to include new headcount details and comment from the NRF and RILA. A version of this story originally appeared on Restaurant Business.

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