Over the weekend, House Democrats reportedly snuck a provision into the controversial $3.5 trillion “reconciliation” bill that could raise the fines for violating the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate from $14,000 per violation to $70,000 per violation, and “willful” and “repeat” violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations could cost some businesses a shocking $700,000 per incident.
“Buried on page 168 of the House Democrats’ 2,465-page mega bill is a tenfold increase in fines for employers that ‘willfully,’ ‘repeatedly,’ or even seriously violate a section of labor law that deals with hazards, death, or serious physical harm to their employees,” Forbes reported Tuesday.
“The increased fines on employers could run as high as $70,000 for serious infractions, and $700,000 for willful or repeated violations—almost three-quarters of a million dollars for each fine,” the outlet noted, adding that if the provision is “enacted into law, vax enforcement could bankrupt non-compliant companies even more quickly than the $14,000 OSHA fine anticipated under Biden’s announced mandate.”
The Biden administration may have begun laying the groundwork for this change over the summer when OSHA “published an emergency Covid-19 rule in the Federal Register taking jurisdiction over and providing justification for Covid-19 being a workplace hazard for healthcare employment.” That jurisdiction currently covers “encouraging” vaccines.
Early in September, Biden announced his 100-or-more employee Covid-19 vaccine mandate and tasked OSHA with drafting an enforcement rule to exert emergency vaccine compliance authority over companies with 100 or more employees.
The legislative provision that passed the Budget Committee raises the OSHA fines for non-compliance 10 times higher – and up to $700,000 for each “willful” or “repeated” violation. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has not announced when the House will vote on the reconciliation bill that includes the new OSHA fines.
If the legislation is enacted, OSHA could levy draconian fines to enforce Biden’s vaccine mandate, a move that could rapidly bankrupt non-compliant companies. The Biden mandate affects employers collectively employing an estimated 80 millionworkers.
The new OSHA regulations are expected to build on the existing “general duty” requirements, which currently demand health care workplaces implement an “infection-control plan developed with worker participation” and mandate “the wearing of masks and respirators,” as well as “Covid-19 screenings at entry points. The current regulation “compels paid time off for employees to get vaccinated or recover from a shot’s side effects.”
OSHA has shown a willingness, particularly in the Biden administration to pursue “willful” violations of this clause. According to Bloomberg Law, “President Joe Biden‘s OSHA, which June 10 released an emergency rule limited to health-care employers, has used the general duty clause against several types of workplaces, from a mobile phone repair shop to a medical clinic. It twice has alleged willful violations, which carry a maximum fine of $136,532.”
The prosecutable “illful” violations included a workplace that specifically did not allow employees to wear masks, and one workplace where a health care provider allegedly continued to work after becoming infected with COVID-19, “passing the virus to co-workers.”
Congress has also been tasked with increasing OSHA’s capacity for enforcing its COVID-19 regulations: the administration’s Biden fiscal 2022 budget requests that “OSHA’s enforcement staff…grow to 1,545 positions in 2022, a 15% increase.”
This article has been revised for clarity.