Tens of millions of Americans who work at companies with 100 or more employees will need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Jan. 4 or get tested for the virus weekly under government rules issued Thursday.
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.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations will force the companies to require that unvaccinated workers test negative for COVID-19 at least once a week and wear a mask while in the workplace.
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 — they will need to be vaccinated.
Workers will be able to ask for exemptions on medical or religious grounds.
OSHA said companies that fail to comply with the regulations could face penalties of nearly $14,000 per violation.
It was unclear how OSHA planned to enforce the rules. A senior administration official said the agency would target companies if it gets complaints.
The release of the rules followed weeks of regulatory review and meetings with business groups, labor unions and others. The regulations form the cornerstone of Biden’s most aggressive effort yet to combat the spread of COVID-19, which has killed more than 740,000 people in the U.S.
The rules will require workers to receive either two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine by Jan. 4 or be tested weekly. Employees who test positive must be removed from the workplace.
Companies won’t be required to provide or pay for the tests, but they must give paid time off for employees to get vaccines and sick leave to recover from side effects that prevent them from working. The requirements for masks and paid time off for shots will take effect Dec. 5.