In a 2-1 ruling, a panel of the U.S. Appeals Court for the Sixth Circuit ruled that the Biden administration could enforce the policy using the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
“Recognizing that the ‘old normal’ is not going to return, employers and employees have sought new models for a workplace that will protect the safety and health of employees who earn their living there,” wrote Judge Jane Branstetter Stranch, a Barack Obama appointee, for the majority. “In need of guidance on how to protect their employees from COVID-19 transmission while reopening business, employers turned to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.”
The rule establishing the mandate had prompted a slate of legal challenges from at least 27 states as well as business and religious groups that argued the mandate is unconstitutional.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals November 12 ordered OSHA to “take no steps to implement or enforce the Mandate until further court order,” reaffirming an earlier decision it had made. The court said the mandate exposes the petitioners “to severe financial risk” and “threatens to decimate their workforces (and business prospects).”
The Biden administration was forced to halt the mandate following the ruling. But Friday, December 17, the Sixth Circuit court ruled that the mandate was needed to limit transmission of the virus.
In November, the Mississippi Justice Institute (MJI), on behalf of Gulf Coast Restaurant Group (GCRG), filed suit, challenging the mandate. GCRG is the corporate family that owns several Mississippi restaurants, including Half Shell Oyster House and the Rack House. GCRG, which is already struggling with staffing shortages in its restaurants, challenged the mandate in court because it will encourage even more of its employees to quit their jobs and could even make it difficult to keep many of its restaurants open.
“Gulf Coast Restaurant Group is disappointed with the decision but always expected this case would eventually be heard by the United States Supreme Court,” said MJI Director Aaron Rice. “Employers all over America are already struggling to keep their businesses open. Now they are faced with losing more of their employees and complying with onerous federal regulations. We are going to continue fighting on their behalf and we believe the Supreme Court will recognize the litany of constitutional and other legal problems with this mandate.”