Milwaukee employers react to federal vaccine mandate for private businesses with more than 100 employees

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MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CBS 58)-- Starting Jan. 4, 2022, private businesses with more than 100 employees will need to certify workers are fully vaccinated or submit to weekly testing and mask-wearing.

CBS 58 asked a labor and employment attorney why the federal government can make this decision for private businesses.

"The argument is essentially that OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has the right under its statutes to implement a rule that would require vaccines, because it's a safety-related consideration," Erik Eisenmann, a partner with Husch Blackwell, said.

Cases challenging this rule are already popping up.

Eisenmann explains OSHA has issued about 10 emergency temporary standards. About half were successful, and the other half were struck down in court.

"I think there is about the same 50/50 chance in this instance that a court will argue or hold that OSHA does not have the authority to implement this rule," Eisenmann said.

Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) tweeted their support of President Joe Biden's goal to increase vaccination rates, but not with this mandate.

"Many Milwaukee region employers, public-facing venues and educational institutions have implemented vaccination requirements. However, there are significant regulatory, logistical and human resource issues that accompany this mandate on businesses, not to mention the financial burden of potential fines," MMAC's statement said. "We will continue to encourage everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated, but this mandate shifts the burden of convincing people to get vaccinated almost entirely to our business community."

Milwaukee area businesses who fall under this rule are figuring out how to execute a vaccination mandate among employees.

With about 7,000 employees, We Energies currently strongly recommends the COVID-19 vaccine by offering incentives for employees who get it.

"We've been keeping a close eye, obviously, on everything from the administration," We Energies spokesperson Brendan Conway said. "We're still reviewing the latest information."

Fiserv is requiring all U.S. employees to be vaccinated by Dec. 8. The company provides services to the federal government and must comply with Biden's executive order requiring all government contractors to be vaccinated.

"Requiring that all U.S. Fiserv associates are vaccinated enables us to meet our commitments to the various government agencies that rely on us, and aligns with the health and safety measures we have taken to keep our associates, clients and communities healthy and safe," Fiserv Vice President of External Communication Ann Cave said in an email to CBS 58.

The rule makes it so employees who choose to forego vaccination could end up footing the bill for weekly testing.

"It's clear that there's an attempt by the administration to make it difficult for people who elect not to get vaccinated, and want to encourage vaccination," Eisenmann said.

On Dec. 5, private employers will be obligated to provide paid leave for employees to get vaccinated.

An emergency temporary standard can only be in effect for six months, according to Eisenmann. By next summer, OSHA will need to look into extending the rule or making it more permanent.

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