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Businesses have until after the holidays to implement Biden Covid vaccine mandate

The Biden administration ordered U.S. companies Thursday to ensure their employees are fully vaccinated by Jan. 4 or regularly tested for Covid-19 — giving them a reprieve over the holidays before the long-awaited and hotly contested mandate takes effect.

Workers must receive their second shot of Pfizer or Moderna’s two-dose vaccines or a single dose of Johnson & Johnson by that date, according to the requirements.

The administration on Thursday also pushed back the deadline for federal contractors to comply with a stricter set of vaccine requirements for staff from Dec. 8 to Jan. 4 to match the deadline set for other private companies and health-care providers.

The newly released rules, issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration under the Labor Department, apply to businesses with 100 or more employees. All unvaccinated workers must begin wearing masks indoors by Dec. 5 and provide a negative Covid test on a weekly basis after the January deadline, according to the requirements.

Companies are not required to pay for or provide the tests unless they are otherwise required to by state or local laws or in labor union contracts. Anyone who tests positive is prohibited from going into work. Employers are also not required to pay for face coverings.

The rules do not apply to people who go to a workplace where other people are not present, who work remotely from home or perform their work exclusively outside. Workers with sincerely held religious beliefs, disabilities, and those with medical conditions that do not allow them to get vaccinated can receive exemptions.

Companies also have until Dec. 5 to offer paid time for employees to get vaccinated and paid sick leave for them to recover from any side effects.

OSHA, which polices workplace safety for the Labor Department, will provide sample implementation plans and fact sheets among other materials to help companies adopt the new rules.

OSHA will also conduct on-site workplace inspections to make sure companies comply with the rules, a senior administration official said. Penalties for noncompliance can range from $13,653 per serious violation to $136,532 if a company willfully violates the rules.

The vaccine mandate, which covers 84 million people employed in the private sector, represents the most expansive use of federal power to protect workers from Covid-19 since the virus was declared a pandemic in March 2020.

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