Companies with at least 100 employees must ensure their workers get a COVID-19 vaccine or undergo weekly testing. Some 17 million health care workers face a vaccine mandate with no testing option.



The Biden administration has said January 4, 2022 as the deadline for most workers in America to get vaccinated or submit to regular testing.

Here's NPR's Andrea Hsu.

ANDREA HSU, BYLINE: The clock is now ticking for medium and large companies to get their employees vaccinated or verify that unvaccinated workers get tested at least once a week. The new rule from OSHA, the workplace safety agency, covers some 84 million workers across the country. Companies must allow these workers to get vaccinated on company time and give them sick leave to recover from any side effects.

Disastrous is the word the trucking industry is using to describe the rule. Jim Ward is president of D.M. Bowman, out of Williamsport, Md. He's got about 450 truck drivers. He guesses half may not be vaccinated. The OSHA rule exempts workers who do not come into contact with co-workers or customers on the job. Still, Ward is under the impression that unvaccinated truckers will have to produce negative COVID tests once a week.

JIM WARD: The complexity that that's going to create in our industry - I mean, I don't know how we're going to do it.

HSU: And, he says, why further burden truckers when there's a trucker shortage?

WARD: It's just going to be more aggravation and frustration for them. And it's totally unnecessary.

HSU: In other industries, it's not so much the rule itself but the timing that's problematic. Evan Armstrong is with the Retail Industry Leaders Association. He says retailers have long encouraged vaccinations. But trying to set up systems for figuring out who's vaccinated, who's not and giving people paid time off to get vaccinated, that's a lot to take on just as the holidays are approaching.

EVAN ARMSTRONG: The holiday season is crucial for retail, and it's already busy. We had already been operating with a talent shortage pretty much the entire year. And so this is an additional challenge.

HSU: Already, there are legal challenges to the OSHA rule from business groups, from Republicans. Attorney Alka Ramchandani-Raj of Littler Mendelson says it's not clear how the courts might rule.

ALKA RAMCHANDANI-RAJ: OSHA does have authority to ensure that there's no direct threat of safety in the workplace.

HSU: But companies may argue that a direct threat from COVID no longer exists. The Biden administration points out that there are still 70,000 new COVID cases a day. And they say vaccine requirements have worked. They've driven up vaccination rates to well over 90% at places like Tyson Foods and a number of hospitals. The White House hopes that with this new rule, other companies will see vaccinations rise; more Americans will get back to work. And that will pave the way to a faster economic recovery.

Andrea Hsu, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.