Florida sues over federal vaccine mandate

Hours after the Biden administration issued rules implementing a sweeping vaccine mandate for American businesses, Florida announced it is suing the federal government over the mandate. 

“We started with ’15 days to slow the spread’ and now it’s ‘get jabbed or lose your job,’” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a statement. “We’re supposed to be a government of laws, not a government of men. This [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] rule is 500 pages of a government of bureaucracy, a government that is being run by executive edict, not a government bound by constitutional constraints.”

In September President Joe Biden announced the vaccine mandate that could affect as many as 100 million U.S. workers. The announcement drew immediate backlash from Republicans and labor unions, but the threatened lawsuits had to wait until federal agencies finalized rules to implement the mandate. 

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That day came Thursday, when OSHA issued guidance for all U.S. businesses with more than 100 employees. The directive moved back the compliance deadline from Dec. 4 to Jan. 4 for companies to require either vaccination or weekly testing. 

Florida’s Republican leaders say OSHA does not have the authority to enforce the mandate. 

“The president does not have the power to force health policy through a workplace safety department,” Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said in a statement announcing the state’s lawsuit. “That’s not what Congress intended when they created OSHA and it’s not a lawful use of the U.S. Department of Labor.”

The OSHA regulations do not apply to those working from home or in outdoor jobs. OSHA stipulates that companies do not need to pay for weekly testing but must mandate masks for unvaccinated employees and offer paid time off to get vaccinated starting Dec. 5.

Businesses and federal contractors who do not comply with the mandate must pay $14,000 for each infraction, with higher fees for intentional noncompliance.

On a local level, the University of Florida’s human resources department sent out guidance to immediately implement the OSHA guidance. 

“Employees that are not fully vaccinated must wear a face covering when indoors or when occupying a vehicle with another person for work purposes” starting Dec. 5, an internal UF email said.

Starting Jan. 4, UF employees will be required to provide proof of vaccination or a weekly negative test: “We will share more information in the coming days and weeks about this requirement, such as how to provide proof of vaccination and how to request a medical or religious exemption, if applicable.”

In August the Gainesville City Commission approved a vaccine mandate for city employees, but in September a court issued an emergency injunction to block it. The same court upheld the injunction last week. 

— With reporting from World News Group’s Carolina Lumetta

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