I’m vaccinated, and I’m grateful to be.
But that doesn’t mean I think the federal government should bully employees in medium and large businesses into getting vaccinated as well.
The Biden administration’s mandate, with a deadline of Jan. 4, requires all businesses employing 100 or more people to have every employee be either fully vaccinated for COVID-19 or to take weekly COVID-19 tests. This will affect an estimated 84 million Americans.
In other words, the government is turning employers—who are not paid by, nor work for, the government—into an army of vaccine enforcers.
Make no mistake: the COVID-19 pandemic is a tremendous tragedy. According to Johns Hopkins University, more than 750,000 Americans have died from COVID-19.
But we are no longer in March 2020. COVID-19 vaccines are readily available for all Americans who want them, and for some Americans, booster vaccine shots are also available.
Sure, breakthrough cases still occur–which I know firsthand, having had a mild case of COVID-19 in August despite being vaccinated–but overall, being vaccinated strongly protects people against severe COVID cases.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drawing on data from August, the unvaccinated were more than 11 times as likely to die from COVID-19 as the vaccinated.
We’ve also made tremendous progress on the medical front. For those diagnosed with COVID-19, treatment with monoclonal antibodies can sharply cut the risk of hospitalization or death. Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer is seeking emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for another COVID-19 treatment, Paxlovid, which it says reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 89% in COVID-19 patients in its study.
Yet, instead of celebrating this good news, President Joe Biden is now putting a huge amount of pressure on unvaccinated Americans to get the vaccine, regardless of whether it violates their beliefs or even just what kind of medical treatment they want to pursue.
What happened to the noble American tradition of respecting the rights and values of the minority, of not demanding absolute conformity?
Where is our tolerance?
Employers will know workers' medical information
Why are we comfortable with the government demanding that companies insist on knowing sensitive medical information about their employees? Why are we OK with the government using people’s need for a job to force them to get vaccinated or to have weekly tests?
While the mandate does allow exemptions from vaccines and weekly testing due to religious belief, it’s not clear how widely those will be granted. And what about those Americans who don’t have a religious objection, but a medical or other objection?
Curious about how invasive the rule from the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration was, I dived into FAQs and summaries about the rule.
What I found horrified me. This rule is far-reaching and invasive, and noncompliance could result in extremely harsh consequences.
The rule applies to minors who work at large companies, who will now be forced to get vaccinated or do weekly tests. For the unvaccinated who opt for weekly tests, they will be required to wear a mask in almost all workplace settings, regardless of their test results.
Think you can just tell your employer you’re vaccinated? Think again. The government prefers your employer get documentation that “should generally include the employee’s name, type of vaccine administered, date(s) of administration, and the name of the health care professional(s) or clinic site(s) administering the vaccine(s),” according to an OSHA FAQ. (So much for medical privacy at work.)
Think you can take an over the counter COVID-19 test weekly and let your employer know the results? Nope: An over the counter test “may not be both self-administered and self-read unless observed by the employer or an authorized telehealth proctor,” per the same FAQ. (Imagine having to take your COVID-19 test by HR.)
What about the employee who lies to his employer about his vaccination status? Well, he could face fines and up to five years in jail for doing so. Of course, lying is wrong, but is this punishment reasonable? Should someone really face jail for keeping their medical business private from their employer?
Companies face significant fines
And in case you’re hoping your workplace might take these rules lightly, think again. The federal government is threatening fines of $13,653 per employee in violation–fines that could quickly become ruinous to the bottom line of companies. Furthermore, “willful or repeated” violations could result in an astonishing $136,532 penalty.
America is bitterly divided over a host of issues, and this mandate will exacerbate our divisions, essentially creating two classes in the workplaces: the unmasked vaccinated and the masked unvaccinated.
Unsurprisingly, several lawsuits have been filed over the vaccine mandate. Last week, a federal appeals court, in stopping Biden's administration from implementing the mandate, said the requirements are "staggeringly overbroad."
The issue likely will land at the Supreme Court, but whatever the legal consensus ends up being, this is terrible policy.
Let companies decide how they want to handle COVID-19 risks, and let individual employees decide whether they’re comfortable with what their company does, just as we have for the past 19 months.
Yes, we need to take COVID-19 seriously. But we also need to take seriously the federal government trampling the rights of private companies and the beliefs of individual Americans. As our options to fight COVID-19 increase, it’s time to focus on finding a balance that protects Americans’ lives and beliefs.
This piece originally appeared in USA Today