Today (January 13, 2021), the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the OSHA’s emergency temporary standard requiring businesses with more than 100 employees to ensure workers are vaccinated against the coronavirus or wear masks and undergo weekly COVID-19 testing.

The majority opinion said that although Congress has given OSHA the power to regulate dangers in the workplace, “it has not given that agency the power to regulate public health more broadly. Requiring the vaccination of 84 million Americans, selected simply because they work for employers with more than 100 employees, certainly falls in the latter category.”

However, SCOTUS allowed the federal government to require COVID-19 vaccination for health care workers at Medicare- and Medicaid-certified providers and suppliers, citing that “health care workers around the country are ordinarily required to be vaccinated for diseases.”

What does that mean for employers in the US?

Politics aside, this doesn’t preclude individual businesses from creating their own vaccine mandates, as many already have. But it does put all of the responsibility for setting mandates at both the State and individual business level – and if the SCOTUS ruling is any type of precursor, States with both Republican and democratic legislatures will most likely avoid trying to impose state level mandates for fear of a court reversal.

So ultimately the responsibility falls on the employer and individual.

Is this a good or a bad thing? A case can be made for either. It’s probably good for trade and other economic indicators, but its probably bad for lowering case counts and other economic indicators like lost days and healthcare costs.

Ultimately, SCOTUS thought the mandate was too broad and struck it down, but this has little effect on the impact to business from an OHS perspective and the need for continued COVID protocols and training.

Whereas Canada has a different approach…

In Canada, the picture is very different. Quebec Premier François Legault announced Tuesday that his government will levy a “significant” tax on any Quebecer who henceforth refuses to show proof of vaccination.

The fine for the unvaccinated would not apply to those with a medical exemption, and no details have been announced yet, but officials said the amount to be levied would be “significant.”

Canada already has strict vaccine mandates in place for airline and train passengers, federal workers, and workplaces regulated by the federal government.

Who is better?

I’m not even going to wade into that conversation. I can say that the day after Quebec made it’s announcement, it experienced the largest increase in first dose vaccination appointments booked. However, I’m sure it also saw the highest increase in calls to lawyers to start class-action filings too.

Ultimately, politics and legal cases aside, I still believe what I’ve always believed, its going to take businesses and safety professionals to guide us through the waves of the pandemic to protect employees, their families, and their communities.