Huntsville employment attorney says federal contractor vaccine mandate likely to survive court challenge

COVID-19

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Some workers in the Huntsville area, a metro with a significant number of federal contractors and a growing economy, struggle with the idea of federal vaccine requirements.

Local employment attorney Robert Lockwood, who also operates the blog site Employing Alabama, says current options are limited.

“OSHA has imposed a mandate on employers with 100 or more employees. Of course, as of this weekend, that mandate has been stayed. In addition, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, CMS, have imposed a mandate on a large section of health care facilities,” Lockwood said. “On top of that, probably most important for contractors in Huntsville, we have a mandate that’s imposed on all federal contractors to be mandated by January 4.”

Since COVID-19 vaccines were first made available, Alabama has maintained one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. President Joe Biden continues to argue unvaccinated individuals are slowing the nation down from regaining a sense of normalcy.

Alabama’s Governor and Attorney General say the federal government is overstepping its boundaries with vaccine mandates.

“You’ve got really competing interests at both the federal and the state level,” Lockwood said. “The Biden administration has really been intent on requiring vaccine mandates. The state of Alabama generally is opposed to vaccine mandates. I think everybody is in favor of vaccines they just don’t want to be told personally to do it.”

Alabama, alongside a number of other states, has also filed suit against the Biden administration’s mandates in an effort to challenge the federal requirements.

Lockwood said he thinks litigation against the OSHA and federal contractor mandates both present valid points. But he said one of the mandates is simply more concrete than the other.

“The federal contractor mandate I think, is probably going to withstand legal scrutiny because, at the end of the day, it’s a contractual requirement. If a contractor wants to do business with the federal government, they have to agree to these vaccine conditions,” he said. “Now the OSHA mandate is a different matter. I think there’s a lot of legal challenges. And I think most employment lawyers think it’s probably going to have a hard time withstanding legal scrutiny.”

As written, the OSHA mandate allows workers to opt out of the vaccine, and instead, they will need proof of a weekly COVID-19 test.

However, federally-contracted employees face termination if they refuse the vaccine.

Last week, the state of Alabama passed a law that aims at preventing workers who claim a religious or medical exemption from being fired.

Lockwood said there’s a lot of confusion surrounding these issues. In the meantime, he is encouraging employers to have a clear line of communication with employees when it comes to the federal requirements.

He said those employers should also prioritize listening to employees who have legitimate concerns from health or religious perspectives.

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