Nevertheless, this dead horse may be in store for some more beating. As you know, the day the ETS was published in the Federal Register back in November, pursuant to Sec. 6(c)(3) of the OSH Act, it became the “proposed rule” in a rulemaking that automatically kicked off to establish a permanent replacement vaccinate-or-test standard. In OSHA’s other big announcement today, the agency indicated that it has not withdrawn that rulemaking. Rather, OSHA declared its intent to move forward with a permanent rulemaking.
This was yet another fascinating development in this roller coaster. While we anticipated that OSHA would withdraw the vaccinate-or-test ETS to avoid having a full merits adjudication by the Supreme Court that would establish more concrete precedent narrowing OSHA’s rulemaking authority, we continue to be surprised to see that OSHA is continuing on with the permanent rulemaking.
Recall that the Supreme Court did not say that OSHA’s ETS exceeded the agency’s emergency rulemaking authority. Rather, the Court found that Continue reading →
After its normal release of opinions this morning that did not include a decision about whether to stay OSHA’s vaccinate-or-test ETS, this afternoon, at approximately 2:30 PM, the United States Supreme Court issued a per curiam decision reinstituting a stay of OSHA’s ETS. Here is a link to the opinion of the Court.
A per curiam decisions is a court opinion issued in the name of the Court rather than specific judges, but it is certainly not an indication that the decision was unanimous or non-controversial, and in this instance, we know it was not that. The decision was 6-3 with a concurrence by Justice Gorsuch (joined by Justices Thomas and Alito), and a joint dissent by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan.
What Was the Legal Basis for the Court’s Decision?
As we anticipated based on the tone of last week’s oral argument last week, the majority of the Court based its decision on the lack of an explicit enough delegation of authority from Congress for OSHA to issue a regulation of this significance and of an issue that is not unique to the workplace. That rationale could have broader implications for OSHA’s regulatory reach than just this COVID-19 ETS (see heat illness):
“Although COVID–19 is a risk that occurs in many workplaces, it is not an occupational hazard in most. COVID–19 can and does spread at home, in schools, during sporting events, and everywhere else that people gather. That kind of universal risk is no different from the day-to-day dangers that all face from crime, air pollution, or any number of communicable diseases. Permitting OSHA to regulate the hazards of daily life—simply because most Americans have jobs and face those same risks while on the clock—would significantly expand OSHA’s regulatory authority without clear congressional authorization.”
This Healthcare ETS was issued back in June 2021 in response to President Biden’s Day 1 OSHA Executive Order. Recall that this was the ETS that had been crafted by OSHA to apply to all employers in all industries, but as it was being finalized in late Spring, when it looked like we might just be approaching the end of the pandemic, the Administration decided to narrow the scope to just the healthcare industry. That ETS was what we call a “programmatic” standard; requiring the development of a comprehensive COVID-19 prevention program, complete with an array of required engineering and administrative controls. When the Healthcare ETS was issued, OSHA noted on its webpage for the ETS that it expected the ETS to be in effect for six months from the date of publication — until December 21, 2021.
December 21st came and went without any word from OSHA. But on Monday of last week, , six days after the Healthcare ETS’s six-month anniversary, OSHA issued a statement that:
“[while OSHA] intends to continue to work expeditiously to issue a final standard that will protect healthcare workers from COVID-19 hazards, and will do so as it also considers its broader infectious disease rulemaking[,]” it is “withdrawing the non-recordkeeping portions of the healthcare ETS. The COVID-19 log and reporting provisions … remain in effect.”
We wanted to share (hopefully) one last ETS update before Christmas. As you know, when the Fifth Circuit issued its Stay of OSHA’s Vaccination, Testing, and Face Coverings Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) in November, OSHA announced that it had “suspended activities related to the implementation and enforcement of the ETS pending future developments in the litigation.” Essentially, OSHA said it was “pencils down” completely – no longer responding to email inquiries about interpretations of ETS terms, no longer speaking/presenting about the ETS, and importantly, no longer producing additional compliance guidance or FAQs.
With the Sixth Circuit lifting the Stay last week, however, OSHA immediately updated its website to reflect that the agency “can now once again implement this vital workplace health standard.” OSHA went right back to work on compliance assistance, not just licking its chops to start enforcing the rule. Indeed, in the last couple of days, OSHA has updated its FAQs on its Vaccination and Testing ETS webpage, including several about the confusing and challenging testing elements of the ETS (See Section 6 – and 6P. through 6.X. are the news testing FAQs). Below are a few of the notable new testing-related FAQs that address questions we were fielding frequently (and thankfully answering correctly):