By Erin Roycroft
A federal judge has temporarily halted enforcement of the White House’s directive that federal contractors impose a mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policy in the workplace. Much like the OSHA emergency temporary standard for large employers and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ similar rule for healthcare workers, which were halted following an injunction almost immediately after the rules were issued, the Executive Order 14042 and its related task force guidance are now on pause. The ruling comes out of the District Court for the Southern District of Georgia.
Judge R. Stan Baker, who was appointed to the federal bench in 2018 by President Trump, held that the plaintiffs—individual workers in Georgia and South Carolina—would likely succeed on their claims that President Biden exceeded his authority in issuing the Executive Order. That ruling comes on the heels of another more limited injunction issued against enforcement of the vaccine mandate for federal contractors. There, federal judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove of the Eastern District of Kentucky, a 2006 George W. Bush appointee, enjoined enforcement of the mandate but only in the states of Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee. In that case, the government has asked the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse the district court’s injunction and has asked the district judge to stay issuance of the injunction pending the outcome in the appeal.
The nationwide ruling will almost certainly be appealed. Employers who are subject to either the OSHA, CMS, or federal contractor rules will want to follow the legal challenges closely, as it is a fluid and evolving situation. Employers and employees alike should also keep in mind that none of the rulings prohibits employers from voluntarily imposing COVID-19 vaccination mandates in the workplace.
This update is prepared for the general information of our clients and friends. It should not be regarded as legal advice. If you have questions about the issues raised here, please contact any of the attorneys in our Labor & Employment Practice Group, or the attorney with whom you normally consult.