Thousands of colleges could be subject to a new federal rule mandating Covid-19 vaccination or testing for large private-sector employers, the Biden administration announced on Thursday.
The Department of Labor’s emergency, temporary rule will require all employees of businesses with 100 or more workers to be vaccinated or to be tested weekly. That mandate will cover more than 80 million workers nationwide, including many of the four million people who work on college campuses. The rule is expected to be published soon in the Federal Register.
“This is not about freedom or personal choice,” President Biden said in a speech on Thursday. “It’s about protecting yourself and those around you — the people you work with, the people you care about, the people you love.”
The Labor Department will also require those employers to give workers paid time off to get vaccinated, Biden said. “The bottom line: We’re going to protect vaccinated workers from unvaccinated co-workers,” he said.
According to federal data, 1,351 private postsecondary institutions employ 100 or more full-time and part-time workers.
It’s not yet clear how Biden’s plan will apply to other private colleges or to public colleges. Public employers with 100 or more workers may be covered, depending on the state. Many higher-education institutions are also federal contractors, and Biden also announced on Thursday that federal workers and contractors would be required to get vaccinated, with no ability to opt for regular testing instead.
Private-sector employers could be fined up to $14,000 per violation if they don’t comply with the federal rule, which will be issued by the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, as an “emergency temporary standard.” Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota, a Republican, has already said she will challenge the policy in court.
Biden’s plan also calls for large entertainment venues and sports arenas — many of which are on college campuses — to require vaccinations as a condition of entry, and for all states to require vaccinations for school employees, though that section of the new policy discusses only elementary- and secondary-school employees.
The new federal push sets up a showdown with some states that have barred public schools and colleges from requiring vaccinations or masks.
Biden’s plan mentions the Education Department’s active investigations into five states that prohibit mask mandates. The investigations will determine whether such bans prevent immunocompromised students with disabilities from getting an in-person education.
The American Council on Education and other higher-ed associations urged government officials last month to “empower colleges and universities to use all available public-health tools to protect students, staff, and their entire campus and surrounding communities,” said Peter McDonough, vice president and general counsel at ACE.
College leaders, he wrote in an emailed statement, “want to have as high a vaccination rate as possible among their faculty, staff, and students.”