Top Court: Vaccine Mandate went Beyond OSHA's Authority

14 Jan, 2022 Frank Ferreri


Washington, DC ( – The U.S. Supreme Court’s rejection of the Biden administration's vaccine mandate for non-healthcare industries showed that a majority of the Court thought the Occupational Safety and Health Administration went too far in setting the rule for some 84 million workers across the country.

In National Federation of Independent Business v. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Nos. 21A244, 21A247 (U.S. 01/13/22), the SCOTUS majority highlighted several ways OSHA was restricted from requiring the jab, highlighting the role of Congress and what the Occupational Safety and Health Act allows the agency to do.

Here’s what the Court keyed in on in reaching its decision:

  • Congress didn’t pass a vaccine requirement. “Indeed, although Congress has enacted significant legislation addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, it has declined to enact any measure similar to what OSHA has promulgated.”
  • The exemptions for employees who work remotely 100 percent of the time or who work exclusively outdoors were “largely illusory.” The court cited OSHA estimates that only nine percent of landscapers and groundskeepers qualify as working exclusively outside.
  • The rule drew no distinctions based on industry or risk of exposure to COVID-19. “Thus, most lifeguards and linesmen face the same regulations as do medics and meatpackers,” the Court’s majority wrote.
  • Requiring workers to either obtain a vaccine or undergo weekly medical testing at their own expense was no “everyday exercise of federal power.” Instead, it was “significant encroachment into the lives – and health – of a vast number of employees.”
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Act didn’t authorize the mandate. “The Act empowers OSHA to set workplace safety standards, not broad public health measures,” the majority reasoned.
  • COVID-19 is not an occupational hazard in most workplaces. “COVID–19 can and does spread at home, in schools, during sporting events, and everywhere else that people gather,” the majority reasoned. “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.” The majority viewed the mandate as taking on “the character of a general public health measure.”
  • A vaccine mandate is unlike workplace regulations that OSHA has typically imposed. “A vaccination, after all, cannot be undone at the end of the workday,” the majority wrote.
  • OSHA has never before adopted a broad public health regulation. “This ‘lack of historical precedent,’ coupled with the breadth of authority that the [agency] now claims, is a ‘telling indication’ that the mandate extends beyond the agency’s legitimate reach,” the majority wrote.


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    About The Author

    • Frank Ferreri

      Frank Ferreri, M.A., J.D. covers workers' compensation legal issues. He has published books, articles, and other material on multiple areas of employment, insurance, and disability law. Frank received his master's degree from the University of South Florida and juris doctor from the University of Florida Levin College of Law.

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