Mandate deadlines loom: Vax or test by Jan. 4.

HR professionals have scrambled in recent weeks to understand and start getting in compliance with OSHA's far-reaching emergency temporary standard (ETS) on COVID vaccinations. The ETS requires larger employers (100 or more employees) to develop and enforce a COVID vaccination policy.

Under the new rules, employers have a choice: Either mandate that all employees get vaccinated (allowing, of course, for legal religious and medical exemptions) or adopt a policy requiring employees to elect to either get vaccinated or to undergo weekly COVID testing and wear a face mask. (See page 6 on advice for making the decision on whether to allow testing.)

Many of the ETS deadlines take effect on Dec. 5, including establishing a policy and determining the vaccination status of employees (see calendar at left). The deadline for workers to be fully vaccinated or submit to weekly testing is Jan. 4. The ETS will be in place for at least six months.

INSIDE: OSHA's vax-or-test mandate Religious exemptions 5 Allow testing or not? 6 FAQ on the ETS 7 Are COVID badges legal? 8 A game of legal chicken. As expected, OSHA's mandate faced a swift legal challenge. A federal court placed a temporary halt to the ETS just days after it was published. You can expect the case to pinball around lower courts for weeks and possibly end up in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court (see details below).

But waiting for these legal battles to play out isn't a wise strategy.

"As of now, an employer's best course of action is to familiarize yourself with the (ETS) and prepare to implement those requirements," advises the Fisher Phillips law firm. "After all, OSHA will most likely have little patience with noncompliant employers who claim they held off implementing the mandate-or-test rule while awaiting a final court ruling."

If the courts do allow the mandate to take...

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