Postal Service Off the Hook for Vaccine-or-Test Mandate Following Supreme Court Ruling

USPS had warned implementing the rule would have "catastrophic" results.

The U.S. Postal Service will no longer have to implement a mandate for its employees to either receive a vaccine against COVID-19 or regular tests for it after the Supreme Court struck down the Biden administration’s requirement. 

The Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued the rule, which applied to employers with at least 100 workers, to promote vaccination rates, arguing it was well within its jurisdiction to protect employees at the workplace. OSHA made clear the rule applied to the Postal Service, which was not otherwise subject to President Biden’s vaccine mandate for the rest of the federal workforce. In a 6-3 decision, the conservative majority on the court said OSHA had overstepped and that COVID-19 was not specifically a workplace risk.

Issues of public health fall “outside of OSHA’s sphere of expertise,” the majority wrote in its opinion. “Although COVID-19 is a risk that occurs in many workplaces, it is not an occupational hazard in most. COVID–19 can and does spread at home, in schools, during sporting events and everywhere else that people gather.” 

The three liberal justices said in a dissenting opinion that OSHA was acting precisely as Congress had intended by limiting the impact of a danger that exists in the workplace. 

“COVID–19, in short, is a menace in work settings,” they wrote. “The proof is all around us: since the disease’s onset, most Americans have seen their workplaces transformed.”

During oral arguments, Scott Keller, an attorney for the National Federation of Independent Business, the group that brought the challenge, pointed specifically at the Postal Service in arguing that even “the federal government is seeking an exemption from its own mandate.” USPS had sought a 120-day exemption from the mandate so it is no longer in its peak season when "many employees" opt to leave as a result and to give the agency more time to negotiate with its unions. Chief Justice John Roberts was generally sympathetic to Keller’s arguments, but did not find that line of reasoning convincing. 

“Just because the Post Office can't do it efficiently doesn't mean private industry can't," Roberts said.

The Supreme Court granted a stay on the rule—kicking it back to a lower court—but the policy appears dead, thereby negating the Postal Service’s delay request. As it awaited a decision from OSHA and the court, USPS had taken steps to implement the requirement. It did so despite warning OSHA that immediate implementation could have a “catastrophic” impact on its operations. 

The Postal Service had said it would fully comply with the mandate after the 120-day period if the rule survived in court. In the meantime, it explained, the mailing agency would continue to use its existing plan to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It pointed to ongoing disruption to the nation's supply chain to stress the potential fallout from complying with the rule immediately. 

USPS did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the court’s ruling.

Separately, the Supreme Court on Thursday allowed a Biden administration vaccine mandate for private health care facilities that receive federal funding to remain in place. Biden’s mandate for the federal workplace has not yet had any issue in court, while the contractor mandate is currently paused pending further proceedings.