In National Federation of Independent Business v. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety & Health Administration, 595 U.S. ___ (2022), the applicants, who consisted of many States, businesses, and nonprofit organizations, argued that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (“OSHA”) vaccine mandate, to be enforced by employers, exceeded OSHA’s statutory authority and was otherwise unlawful. The applicants sought emergency relief from the mandate.
The United States Supreme Court explained that OSHA’s authority is limited by statute, specifically the Occupational Safety and Health Act (the “Act”). Pursuant to the Act, the Secretary of Labor is authorized to set workplace safety standards. The Court found that the text of the Act repeatedly makes clear that OSHA is charged with regulating occupational hazards and the health and safety of employees.
The Court found that while COVID–19 is a risk that occurs in many workplaces, it does not qualify as an occupational hazard in most. The Court reasoned that COVID-19 is a hazard of daily life and permitting OSHA to regulate the hazards of daily life would significantly expand OSHA’s regulatory authority without clear congressional authorization.
The Court clarified that OSHA does have the authority to regulate occupation-specific risks related to COVID–19 where the virus poses a special danger because of the particular features of an employee’s job or workplace. However, OSHA’s COVID–19 Vaccination and Testing: Emergency Temporary Standard, 86 Fed. Reg. 61402, which applied to roughly 84 million workers, and covered virtually all employers with at least 100 employees, failed to account for the distinction between occupational risk and general risk. Thus, the mandate took on the character of a general public health measure rather than an “occupational safety or health standard.” The Court found that the applicants were likely to succeed on the merits of their claim that OSHA lacked the authority to impose the mandate.
The Court stayed OSHA’s COVID–19 Vaccination and Testing: Emergency Temporary Standard, 86 Fed. Reg. 61402 pending disposition of the applicants’ petitions in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.