Biden's vaccine mandate gives employers cover when implementing vaccine requirements

Robert Channick, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Business News

President Joe Biden’s newly issued mandate that companies with 100 or more employees must require vaccinations or weekly COVID-19 testing among their workforce may be just what the doctor ordered for a number of Chicago-area companies, including WeatherTech, the southwest suburban car floor mat manufacturer.

The company, which has 1,700 employees on its sprawling Bolingbrook, Ill., campus making everything from dog bowls to cellphone holders, has no vaccine or testing mandates in place, despite having “several very sick employees” and one death from COVID-19, according to WeatherTech founder and CEO David MacNeil.

MacNeil, a strong proponent of COVID-19 vaccinations for his employees, said the legal landscape for imposing a company mandate was unknown — at least before Biden announced his proposed mandate Thursday.

“I welcome government help in getting the job done,” MacNeil said Friday.

Under Biden’s plan, workers must either be vaccinated or tested weekly, with businesses providing time off for employees to do either. The proposed rules, which have yet to be drafted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, would carry fines of up to $14,000 per violation for the businesses, and cover about 80 million private-sector workers.

Some labor experts expect the vaccine mandate, which may take weeks to roll out, to be challenged in court. But it may provide an immediate catalyst for businesses seeking guidance — and legal backing — on implementing what has proven to be a potentially divisive requirement.


“I think companies have been waiting for this,” said John Challenger, CEO of Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “Companies will flock to get this done. I think there will be a real sense of relief. They’ve been looking for cover.”

United Airlines is among a number of large companies that have taken the lead in implementing vaccine mandates for employees as COVID-19 cases rise amid the spread of the delta variant. Other companies requiring proof of vaccination include CVS, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Delta Air Lines, Tyson Foods and Walgreens.

Biden’s mandate would incorporate a much broader swath of companies, providing an incentive for moving forward and penalties for violating what would be an enforceable workplace safety violation.

Mark Denzler, president and CEO of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, said the “devil is in the details” of the yet-to-be released OSHA rules.


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