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09/13/2021

Retail Industry Seeks Clarity on COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate

OSHA is working on a rule for private businesses with 100 or more employees to require the shot or weekly testing.
Vaccination required sign

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Joe Biden's vaccine mandate for private businesses with 100 or more employees raised several questions in the retail community.

In his announcement, the president said workers would be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine or get tested weekly.

"Retailers, like the rest of the country, are eager to move past COVID-19. Throughout the pandemic, retailers have led on masks, safety protocols in stores, and vaccinations. Incentives, paid time off, and other perks have been implemented to encourage retail employees to get vaccinated," said Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) President Brian Dodge. "While we await more details about the requirements, it is essential that the administration understand that requiring large employers to mandate vaccination of all employees or produce a negative test is a colossal undertaking."

Carrying out the mandate would need coordination with industry and all levels of government, according to Dodge, who pointed out testing capacity is already stressed.

"Leading retailers remain committed partners in the fight against COVID. We urge the administration to keep the goal of these new requirements, beating the virus through vaccinations, at the forefront of the rulemaking process," he said. "Demonstrated good faith by employers to comply with the new rules should be appreciated and not punished."

Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the Consumer Brands Association, said the consumer packaged goods industry supports efforts to vaccinate as many people as possible, and the industry is working to educate its employees on its efficacy and increase vaccination rates.

However, "the devil is in the details," he said.

"Without additional clarification for the business community, employee anxieties and questions will multiply," Freeman expressed. "Our country's ability to increase vaccination rates hinges on federal agencies offering clear, detailed and timely guidance in hours, not weeks. Across the federal government, we will need to see a degree of coordination, rapid response and private sector engagement to be successful. We look forward to working with the administration to increase vaccination rates of essential workers throughout the country."

Citing data from the law firm Fisher-Phillips, NACS reported that an estimated 80 million workers — or two-thirds of the U.S. workforce — will be impacted by the rule.

According to NACS, Fisher-Phillips offered a five-step plan for employees to implement:

  1. Adopt procedures for determining employees' vaccination status;
  2. Determine if you will mandate the vaccine or allow unvaccinated employees to be tested weekly;
  3. Develop a plan for handling accommodation requests;
  4. Have a plan for tracking test results; and,
  5. Prepare for Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) complaints and inspections.

OSHA is expected to issue the rule on the mandate soon.