Is Biden’s vaccine mandate legal? It doesn’t matter.

In “Other Duties as Assigned,” HR Dive Lead Editor Kate Tornone weighs in on employment trends, compliance best practices and, of course, the situations that require you to go above and beyond your normal duties. Today: leading an economic and public health recovery effort.

When President Joe Biden announced Thursday that the government would soon require many employers to mandate coronavirus vaccines for workers, there was much hand-wringing about the rule’s legality.

Is it legal? And, if so, is it enforceable?

It doesn’t matter.

The administration is frustrated with the damage done by those who remain unvaccinated, Biden said. The goal is to move to save lives and get the economy back on track as fast as possible. And Biden has long taken the position that employers are the ones that can do that.

We’ve also known for some time that employer vaccine mandates are likely legal, assuming accommodations are provided for those who cannot receive the shot due to a disability or sincerely-held religious belief.

But while some businesses adopted vaccine mandates in recent weeks, others hesitated. Various employment law attorneys have told HR Dive reporters that clients are interested in such policies, but worry about legal challenges.

This newly announced standard is designed to assuage those worries more than assurances from enforcement agencies could.

It’s designed to take the onus off employers and allow them to point to a federal requirement.

It’s designed to level the playing field in the competition for talent. Fewer employees will quit over a mandate when competitors are subject to the same requirement.

And it’s designed to get employers to adopt mandates now — before OSHA can publish a standard and before there’s any meaningful legal challenge to it.

The administration knows employers are likely on solid legal ground when they adopt mandates, and it has decided that if an OSHA standard can get more shots in arms, the economic and public health benefits that could be gained today are worth the risk of a judicial defeat later.

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