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In his speech last Thursday, September 9th, President Biden laid out his administration's updated mandates for tackling COVID-19. This post highlights the provisions that directly impact employers so that businesses can avoid hefty legal penalties and create a safe space for employees to return to work.

Federal Rules For Employers

The Biden administration will require all employers with more than 100 employees to mandate vaccinations or conduct weekly COVID-19 tests on employees who remain unvaccinated. This rule will apply to about two-thirds of all US employees. The largest impact will be felt within medium to small businesses as many larger employers already have policies in place around testing.

Failing to comply can cost employers tens of thousands of dollars. A senior administration official said the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration would take enforcement actions against those who did not comply, with substantial fines of nearly $14,000 per violation. With multiple violations, this can add up quickly.

As more companies implement vaccine mandates, more employees are likely to ask for exemptions. Those that opt out will be subject to weekly testing. It is currently unclear if the federal government will cover the cost of these tests. More information on how to handle exemption requests can be found here.

Finally, companies must provide paid leave for those employees recovering from a COVID-19 vaccine. While the federal government will not directly cover these costs, these expenses can be used to apply for loan forgiveness (discussed in more detail in the next section).

Federal Support For Employers

Though a large portion of the Biden administration’s response to COVID-19 requires assistance from employers, it also includes several provisions designed to help businesses survive the barrage of economic obstacles that the pandemic has thrown their way. In particular, the Biden administration will:

  1. Increase support for small businesses: The Small Business Administration (SBA) will increase the amount that small businesses can borrow through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program from $500,000 to $2,000,000.
  2. Streamline loan forgiveness: Businesses who have received Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans can have them forgiven if they use the funds to keep employees on the payroll. Going forward, the SBA will send a pre-completed application which borrowers need only sign and send back.
  3. Help businesses in underserved communities: The American Rescue Plan contributed $100 million to the creation of a new SBA Community Navigator program, which will place community partners in underserved areas to help link small company owners to Federal, state, and local resources.

Takeaways

President Biden’s updated plan for combatting COVID-19 makes it easier for companies to create safe environments for their employees to return to, and it plays a significant role in bringing an end to the pandemic.

While the Biden administration’s new COVID policies solve several issues that may have previously discouraged businesses from taking a more forceful approach, it also raises additional questions. For instance, since there is no current consensus as to whether the Federal government will cover the cost of COVID-19 tests for employees who are exempt from vaccine mandates, companies will have to decide whether to front the costs themselves or place them on their employees.

The administration is expected to announce additional steps in the coming weeks. Follow the Wellable Blog to stay up to date.

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