The Supreme Court on Thursday blocked an Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule mandating that large employers require employees get vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing.
The court allowed a separate rule mandating vaccination for employees of health-care facilities receiving Medicare and Medicaid funding to go into effect.
In blocking the OSHA rule, which would have applied to colleges and other workplaces with 100 or more employees, and which would have affected an estimated 84 million workers, a six-member majority of the court found that the states, businesses and nonprofit groups that sued were likely to prevail in their arguments that OSHA exceeded its authority as set out in the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.
The majority said in an unsigned opinion that the act empowers the secretary of labor “to set workplace safety standards, not broad public health measures.”
“Although COVID-19 is a risk that occurs in many workplaces, it is not an occupational hazard in most,” the court’s opinion states. “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.”
The three liberal justices on the court dissented, arguing the court acted “outside of its competence and without legal basis” in displacing the judgments of OSHA officials.
“In the face of a still-raging pandemic, this Court tells the agency charged with protecting worker safety that it may not do so in all the workplaces needed,” Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a dissenting opinion. “As disease and death continue to mount, this Court tells the agency that it cannot respond in the most effective way possible. Without legal basis, the Court usurps a decision that rightfully belongs to others. It undercuts the capacity of the responsible federal officials, acting well within the scope of their authority, to protect American workers from grave danger.”