New York: Tens of millions of Americans who work at companies with 100 or more employees will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Jan. 4 or get tested for the virus weekly under government rules that took effect Thursday.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said companies that fail to comply could face penalties of nearly $14,000 per violation.
The new requirements, which were first previewed by President Joe Biden in September, will apply to about 84 million workers at medium and large businesses, although it is not clear how many of those employees are unvaccinated.
Tougher rules will apply to another 17 million people who work in nursing homes, hospitals and other facilities that receive money from Medicare and Medicaid. Those workers will not have an option for testing and will need to be vaccinated.
Here are the key takeaways:
What do companies have to do?
Companies with 100 or more employees must require those workers to get fully vaccinated - with two shots of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, or one shot of Johnson & Johnson - by Jan. 4.
After that date, any employee who remains unvaccinated must provide a verified negative COVID test weekly. Companies aren't required to pay for those tests. Unvaccinated employees also must wear masks.
Will workers get time off to get vaccinated?
Starting Dec. 5, employers must offer paid time off for workers to get vaccinated and sick leave if workers experience vaccine side effects.
How will this be enforced?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration will assist companies with vaccination plans.
It will also enforce the rules. Fines for non-compliance will vary based on a company's size and other factors. A company might have to pay up to $13,653 per individual violator or up to $136,532 for willful violation of the rules.
What are the rules for health care workers?
Workers at health care facilities that treat Medicaid and Medicare patients must be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4. There is no weekly testing option for those workers, but they can ask for religious or medical exemptions. The mandate will cover about 17 million health care workers at hospitals, nursing homes, surgical centres and other facilities.
What about federal contractors?
In September, the Biden administration said it would require employees at federal contractors to get vaccinated by Dec. 8. On Thursday, the government pushed back that deadline to Jan. 4.
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