The Biden administration has said it will rely on whistleblowers to help enforce its COVID-19 vaccine mandate by ratting out businesses that fail to comply — because the federal government doesn’t have enough safety inspectors to do it.
The administration is betting that informants will be so outraged by their employer violating the mandate or not requiring weekly COVID-19 tests for their co-workers that they will turn them in.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has said there are not enough workplace safety inspectors to ensure that the millions of workers in US companies with 100 or more employees will be vaccinated or tested weekly by Jan. 4, when the controversial mandate is scheduled to take effect.
“There is no army of OSHA inspectors that is going to be knocking on employers’ doors or even calling them,” Debbie Berkowitz, a former OSHA chief of staff and fellow at Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, told the Associated Press.
“They’re going to rely on workers and their union representatives to file complaints where the company is totally flouting the law,” she said.
Acting OSHA Administrator Jim Frederick recently told reporters that his agency will focus on job sites “where workers need assistance to have a safe and healthy workplace.”
“That typically comes through in the form of a complaint,” he said.
It’s unknown how many people will snitch on their own employer despite risks to themselves and possible loss of job security, and critics point out that OSHA has rarely provided protection when they do come forward.
A company could face a fine of up to nearly $14,000 for “serious” violations.
Blowing the whistle on an employer can have dire consequences.
“Technically, the law says that companies can’t retaliate against a worker for raising a health and safety issue or filing an OSHA complaint or even reporting an injury. But retaliation is rampant,” Berkowitz said.
President Biden in September announced his intent to put a vaccine mandate in place as the Delta variant caused an uptick of coronavirus cases in the US, saying the variant was fueling a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
The mandate will cover 84 million workers.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 750,000 Americans have died because of the coronavirus.
Biden’s directive has been challenged by a number of Republican-led states, and last Saturday, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Louisiana issued a stay, citing “grave statutory and constitutional” concerns about the mandate.
The White House is battling the decision in court, but in the meantime, it has asked businesses to adopt their own mandates.
“We think people should not wait. We say do not wait to take actions that will keep your workplace safe. It is important and critical to do and waiting to get more people vaccinated will lead to more outbreaks and sickness,” deputy White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday.
OSHA, which oversees workplace safety in 29 states, would be tasked with enforcing the mandate.
With around 1,850 inspectors responsible for 130 million workers, the agency would be pressed thin, forcing it to enlist an army of whistleblowers.
The majority of businesses are expected to follow the mandate as they do with other OSHA regulations.
“Most employers — they’re law-abiding,” David Michaels, a former OSHA chief who is an epidemiologist and professor of public health at George Washington University, told the AP.
“They’re trying to make sure that they meet the requirements of every law and regulation. ... Now OSHA will follow up. They’ll respond to complaints. They’ll do spot checks. They’ll issue citations and fines, and they’ll make a big deal of those” to discourage other potential violators, he said.
With Post wires