Unvaccinated Michigan Workers Must Wear Masks to Jobs Under State Guidelines

In Michigan, one of 26 states that enforce workplace safety rules instead of the federal government, about 586,000 government workers are subject to the Biden administration's COVID-19 vaccine and testing requirements for private-sector workers, the Associated Press reported.

Private and public employers in Michigan with 100 or more employees must tell them to get vaccinated by January 4, according to the new order from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). However, employers can instead give employees the choice to either get vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID-19 testing. Mask wearing for the unvaccinated must start no later than December 5.

On Tuesday, Michigan business groups that oppose the mandate said they will assist companies with compliance because the deadlines are nearing and it is unclear what will happen in the courts, according to the AP.

Most Michigan businesses have said they'd rather take the vaccinate-or-test option instead of mandating immunization, said officials from the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and other organizations.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

President Joe Biden
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the coronavirus pandemic and vaccination at the White House on August 23. Jim Watson/Getty Images

Federal law requires those states with OSHA-approved plans to cover state and local government workers, including school employees.

"Coverage of the public-sector employees in state plans like Michigan is one of the great advantages of having a state plan. In federal OSHA states, the public-sector employees do not have any OSHA protection," said Jason Moon, a spokesman for the state Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity.

Peter Spadafore, deputy executive director for external relations at the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators, said, "Our members, by and large, have seen that it is not exactly a vaccine mandate. So they're looking to what the testing protocols might look like for employees that opt out and things like that."

He added, "But we know at the association that the science points us toward vaccination and testing and masking being some of most effective tools to prevent the spread."

A federal appeals court over the weekend paused the new OSHA regulation from taking effect. The White House has expressed confidence that it can withstand legal challenges.

The testing requirement covers employees who are in the workplace at least once a week.

If "the employee decides they're leaving their job rather than getting vaccinated, [employers] are very fearful that they won't be able to find somebody to replace that person," said Michael Tierney, president of the Community Bankers of Michigan, citing a labor shortage.

Michigan business groups criticized the requirement as burdensome, saying it could lead to increased vaccine hesitancy and questioned the timing. The hospitality and retail sectors are entering their busiest period of the year at a time of supply-chain disruptions in the economy, said Michigan Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rich Studley.

"The timing of implementing this rule really couldn't be worse," he said.

The White House said Monday that the mandate is about keeping people safe amid a pandemic that has killed more than 755,000 people in the U.S.

"We believe that in order to get this pandemic behind us, we need to get more people vaccinated, and this is a way to do that," spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said. "We see vaccination requirements work. It's important to keep people safe in their workplace."