Washington Watch: New OSHA rules hit many community colleges

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Last Thursday’s announcement by the Occupational and Safety Health Administration (OSHA) of new Covid-related requirements will affect community colleges across the country – but not all of them. 

For many institutions, the state in which they are located will determine whether the requirements apply. These requirements are distinct from those attaching to federal contractors of $250,000 or more, as explained below.

OHSA’s just-announced Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) applies to private employers with 100 or more employees. These employers will have to require their employees to be fully vaccinated by January 4 or undergo weekly testing. Employers will not be responsible for paying for testing, but they will have to provide employees with up to four hours off to get vaccinated. Colleges will also have to maintain documentation of employee’s vaccination.

Editor’s note: A federal appeals court on Saturday issued a stay freezing the Biden administration’s new vaccine requirement for private companies. The suspension comes as several Republican-led states filed legal challenges on Friday. The administration has until 5 p.m. Monday to respond to the challenges.

Employees who work fully remote, or those who work outdoor 100% of the time, are not covered by the requirement.

Unvaccinated employees will be required to wear masks in the workplace, which takes effect December 4. Employees who do not comply will be subject to a fine of $13,653.

Employees and contractors

Obviously, community colleges are not private employers. However, the OSHA announcement will impact public employees, and so community colleges, in the states and territories that have formal arrangements with OSHA. Covered jurisdictions include 26 states plus Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. These entities have 30 days to implement standards that are at least as effective as OSHA’s in preventing work-related injuries, illness and death, or they must adopt the OSHA standards applied to private employers as released on November 4. 

Some community colleges have fewer than 100 employees, though OSHA is formally considering whether to lower that threshold. 

Another key part of the federal government’s Covid vaccination rules concerns large federal contractors, who will not be required to adhere to the new requirements, but only because entities with contracts of $250,000 or more must follow requirements that are generally more stringent than those just announced, particularly in that they do not allow for a testing option. Some community colleges have contracts of this size, but many others do not. It is important to note that the requirement is specific to federal contracts and does not apply simply because an institution receives federal grants. The exact reach of the vaccine mandate, for those colleges to which it applies, is unclear, but the mandate is clearly designed to have a broad reach, and many campuses that are subject to it are requiring all employees (including student employees) to be vaccinated.

Webinar this week

The new OHSA rules are already enmeshed in political and legal actions that in some places add uncertainly to what colleges will be required to do. It many places, however, vaccine and related requirements are clearly in the offing.

ETS webinar on Friday: On November 12 at 2 p.m. ET the Biden administration will hold a webinar on the new Emergency Temporary Standard with a focus on higher education. Register today.

About the Author

David Baime
is senior vice president for government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges.