In a 6-3 decision published January 13, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed, or paused, the COVID-19 vaccine mandate imposed by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”). Specifically, on November 5, 2021, OSHA published emergency rules requiring all employers with at least 100 employees to ensure their workforces are fully vaccinated or show negative tests at least once a week. After challenges were brought throughout the country, the cases were consolidated and taken up to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In staying OSHA’s emergency rules, the Court held that OSHA’s mandate exceeded its statutory authority when it implemented rules that, according to the Court, were a broad public health measure, rather than a workplace safety standard. The Court went on to explain that OSHA’s statutory authority does not extend to the general public health. Instead, OSHA only has the authority to regulate occupational safety or health standards. Additionally, the Court noted that there is a lack of historical precedent for this type of broad health mandate, and OSHA has never before adopted such a regulation.
The case was sent back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit for further consideration. Until the Sixth Circuit (or the U.S. Supreme Court if the decision is appealed) reaches a more final decision, OSHA’s rule is stayed.
The Illinois OSHA, which applies to public school districts, had adopted the federal OSHA’s mandate but, in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling, Illinois OSHA has released a statement that it also will stay enforcement of the rules.
As a practical matter for Illinois schools, the Supreme Court’s decision does not change anything because the Illinois State Board of Education, the Illinois Department of Public Health, and the Governor’s Executive Orders all require school personnel to either be vaccinated or tested once a week. That Illinois requirement is currently being litigated in two different cases in Sangamon County, and we will bring you updates on those cases as they develop.