- Retailers are asking for 90 days before the Biden administration implements new rules requiring workers at large employers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
- Policy officials with the industry's two leading trade groups, the National Retail Federation and the Retail Industry Leaders Association, sent a joint letter asking for the 90-day timeline "to allow retailers and other employers to create the systems necessary" to meet the new requirement.
- The letter, addressed to the Department of Labor and its Occupational Safety and Health Administration, also raised a long list of questions, including around how vaccinations will be verified, how to respond to employee refusals, the definition of "vaccinated," religious and health exemptions, and several other topics.
Retail as an industry is one of the largest employers in the country, accounting for some 50 million jobs, according to RILA. Its workers have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, asked both to accept the risks of public-facing work amid a deadly pandemic and to enforce health protocols for themselves and customers.
"As we have navigated federal and state requirements, recommendations, and protocols, we have learned that it takes time to implement successful testing and vaccination programs — particularly in the face of challenges related to availability, access, and verification," RILA's Michael Hanson and NRF's David French wrote in the letter.
Based on that experience during the pandemic, they asked OSHA to "consider the extensive measures that every company will need to undertake to implement the requirements" of the administration's mandate. The letter also asks that the agency weigh "the stress this action will place upon availability of and access to vaccines and tests" — hence the request for three months' lead time to prepare for implementation.
Earlier this month, President Joe Biden announced that he had asked OSHA to develop a rule requiring companies with 100 or more employees to ensure their workforces are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to weekly testing. The mandate followed a deadly surge in COVID-19 transmission beginning this summer driven by the delta variant, which has put a strain on medical resources, particularly in states and regions with lower vaccination rates.
At the time of Biden's announcement, RILA President Brian Dodge noted that "requiring large employers to mandate vaccination of all employees or produce a negative test is a colossal undertaking." Others have pointed to the difficulties retailers have already voiced in recruiting workers into their stores. However, research from Qualtrics has shown that 60% of employees overall support vaccine mandates at work.
The questions raised in RILA and NRF's letter to OSHA outline some of the specific potential difficulties retailers anticipate with the rule. Among others, the groups asked about how the rule would apply to minors, how it will interact with state rules, who pays for tests when employees opt for weekly testing over a vaccine and other issues raised by the groups' member companies.
Other trade groups and leaders have given full-throated endorsement to the mandate. After Biden's announcement, American Apparel & Footwear Association CEO Steve Lamar issued a statement saying in part, "These steps will go a long way to ensure that we are getting vaccines in arms, and that we can protect our workforce from this disease that has already cost the world so much."