OSHA ETS Blocked

The U.S. Supreme Court today (January 13, 2022) issued a stay of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s (OSHA) Emergency Temporary Standard that would have forced all private employers in the country with more than 100 workers to require COVID-19 vaccinations or masks and weekly testing for unvaccinated staff.

The Supreme Court’s ruling effectively blocks all federal enforcement of the OSHA ETS.

Majority Decision Blocks OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard

By a 6-3 majority, the court ruled that the OSHA ETS was beyond the scope of the agency’s congressionally-given powers stating, “The Act empowers the Secretary to set workplace safety standards, not broad public health measures.”

Further underlining their justification, the majority justices stated, “Administrative agencies are creatures of statute. They accordingly possess only the authority that Congress has provided. The Secretary has ordered 84 million Americans to either obtain a COVID–19 vaccine or undergo weekly medical testing at their own expense. This is no ‘everyday exercise of federal power.’ It is instead a significant encroachment into the lives—and health—of a vast number of employees.”

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Dissenting Justices Oppose Block of OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard

In their dissent, Justices Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor held that “The Standard falls within the core of the agency’s mission: to ‘protect employees’ from ‘grave danger’ that comes from ‘new hazards’ or exposure to harmful agents.”

The dissenting Justices added, “In our view, the Court’s order seriously misapplies the applicable legal standards. And in so doing, it stymies the Federal Government’s ability to counter the unparalleled threat that COVID–19 poses to our Nation’s workers. Acting outside of its competence and without legal basis, the Court displaces the judgments of the Government officials given the responsibility to respond to workplace health emergencies.”

OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard Still Active in Some States

Several states, such as Illinois and California, have adopted all or portions of the federal OSHA ETS for their state Occupational Health Agencies. The Supreme Court ruling will have no effect on the states’ enforcement of the adapted federal ETS rules.