As a federal appeals court debates the constitutionality of the Biden administration’s vaccine requirement for businesses with at least 100 employees, Ohio businesses are preparing to enforce it.
“If you are a company with more than 100 employees, you need to prepare like this is going into effect,” said Kevin Shimp, general counsel for the Ohio Chamber of Commerce.
See more: covid 19 religious exemption
The requirement comes from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and states that workers at qualifying companies must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Jan. 4 or submit to weekly tests. And all unvaccinated employees must wear masks to work starting Dec. 5.
The penalty – 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 businesses from requiring vaccinations have stalled. But even if they were part of Ohio’s code, the Emergency Temporary Standard would supersede them.
If the OSHA rule gets defeated in court, then businesses would have to follow Ohio law which currently allows employers to require vaccination.
You can seek an exemption: Workers can ask for medical or religious exemptions, but employers can require verification.
You can be asked about your faith: Employers can’t directly question the sincerity of your religious beliefs, Shimp said, “But they are able to ask questions about your past behavior related to those beliefs.”
For example, if an employee objects on the ground that fetal cells were used in the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, the employer can ask him or her to sign a document swearing that they don’t use other medications that relied on fetal cell testing like Tylenol, aspirin, Tums or Claritin.
It’s worth noting that the COVID-19 vaccines do not contain aborted fetal cells. Fetal cell lines – grown from aborted fetal cells collected decades ago – were used in testing during research and development.
When in doubt, use this form: Businesses that plan to investigate the religious claims of their employees can use the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s own religious accommodation request form, Shimp said. It’s the federal agency that handles disputes between workers and their employers, so “that’s probably best practices.”
You might get paid time off: The OSHA rules would require employers to give people up to four hours of paid time off to get vaccinated.
But Shimp said it’s possible the appeals court strikes down this particular provision because OSHA doesn’t normally mandate paid leave.
Employers could be on the hook for fake vaccine cards: The Ohio Chamber asked the White House and the Department of Labor to hold businesses harmless for employee misconduct.
“We felt that employers shouldn’t be in the position of having to verify whether an employee handed them a fake vaccination card,” Shimp said. But it wasn’t part of the Emergency Temporary Standard OSHA issued earlier this month. So it’s unclear whether OSHA would fine the employer in cases where the worker used a fake card.
Likewise, workers who misrepresent their vaccination status can face criminal charges under the OSHA rules.
Ohio’s small businesses aren’t participating: The Ohio chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses said 99% of its members don’t have 100 employees.
“On the more individualized business level, in our last survey of NFIB members in Ohio, over 80% of the respondents said they are not even asking if employees are vaccinated,” NFIB Ohio spokesman Andy Patterson said.
The Ohio Chamber is providing support: The advocacy group has a free “Business Academy webinar” on the federal mandate scheduled for Nov. 16. Attendees are not required to be chamber members.
“We are looking at the possibility of creating a testing program with Quest Diagnostics to help companies comply, in case the mandate is not overturned by the courts,” spokesperson Courtney Whetstone said.
More companies are mandating vaccination: Nationally speaking, a Gallup poll from September found that 19% of U.S. said their employer already had a policy. 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 affiliated news organizations across Ohio.