Meeting in special session earlier this month, the Utah Legislature passed a bill that allows Utah employees to claim exemption from Pres. Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine workplace requirements.

In September, Biden directed the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue rulings that would mandate that any employer of 100 or more workers would be required to ensure that employees were either vaccinated or required to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing. OSHA issued the ruling setting Jan. 4 as the deadline for employers to comply. If companies don’t comply, they could be fined nearly $14,000 per violation, according to the OSHA ruling.

A circuit court in Louisiana has issued a temporary stay on the OSHA order, but Utah legislators proceed with the exemption bill anticipating possible rulings in favor of the administration.

The new Utah law (SB2004) provides employees the opportunity to use exemptions to vaccine mandates based on personal, medical or religious reasons. Senate Majority Assistant Whip Kirk Cullimore, R-Draper, the bill’s sponsor, said the law mirrors what exists in higher and public education. Early in the process, the Utah Senate amended the bill to exempt Medicare- or Medicaid-certified providers or suppliers and federal contractors so they can follow federal guidelines concerning the vaccine mandate in order to continue to receive federal funds. The bill also allows those who work for state or local governments to be exempt from vaccine mandates.

Employers of workers who can be demonstrated to need to be vaccinated in order to perform their duties safely — such as healthcare workers — can also be exempted from the new Utah law.

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