Some area companies are reviewing a new vaccine mandate deadline that President Joe Biden’s administration and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration rolled out Thursday.
Companies with 100 or more employees have a two-month deadline to implement a COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Employees must be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Jan. 4 or get tested weekly. Companies that fail to comply could face penalties of nearly $14,000 per violation.
Jeff Ghannam, safety manager for Benco Dental, the nation’s largest independent dental distributor headquartered in Jenkins Twp., said since the OSHA emergency temporary standard was just released Thursday, “we are in the process of reviewing the information with our legal department.”
While Benco Dental, which employs about 400, is not mandating employees be vaccinated to work, Ghannam said the company is encouraging employees to get the vaccine and provides a $200 financial wellness incentive to associates who show proof of vaccination.
Officials from Berkshire Hathaway GUARD Insurance Companies, which employ more than 800 people in the Wilkes-Barre area, also are still reviewing the guidelines, said company spokeswoman Elizabeth Hartman.
“As the guidelines were just released and are quite lengthy, we are carefully reviewing to determine if any modifications to our current procedures are required,” she said.
Hartman said Berkshire Hathaway GUARD “strongly encourages employees to be vaccinated and we will continue to do so.”
Most GUARD employees have been working remotely but they have the option to split their time between going to the office and working remotely.
“We provide paid time-off for vaccination appointments and if an employee is having trouble locating a vaccination clinic or getting a vaccination appointment scheduled, our human resources team will help them secure a vaccination appointment,” Hartman said.
Geisinger announced a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees on Aug. 25. Employees were required to be vaccinated by Nov. 1 or they could be terminated.
In September, more than 100 people protested the vaccine mandate outside Geisinger Medical Center in Danville.
Geisinger spokesman Matt Mattei said Thursday that in the 10 weeks since announcing the COVID-19 vaccine requirement, thousands of employees who had yet to be vaccinated “sought out reliable information and answers to their questions before making the choice to get vaccinated on behalf of community health and safety.”
“As more employees have been vaccinated, we’ve seen the number of people on quarantine and the length of time staff spends on quarantine drastically decrease, meaning critical healthcare resources can continue to be available for both COVID and non-COVID patients,” Mattei said in an emailed statement.
Mattei said Geisinger officials are still determining what percentage of employees are unvaccinated.
Commonwealth Health has not yet announced a vaccine mandate for employees.
Commonwealth Health spokeswoman Annmarie Poslock said officials from the health system, which includes Wilkes-Barre General Hospital and First Hospital in Kingston, were still reviewing the new rules.
Poslock said the majority of Commonwealth Health’s caregivers already have chosen to be vaccinated and more are making that choice now.
“Commonwealth Health stands firm in its commitment to maintain a safe environment for our patients and caregivers,” Poslock said.
National Retail Federation senior vice president for government relations David French released a statement Thursday calling the new requirements “burdensome” for retailers.
Over the last 19 months, French said retailers across the country have taken extraordinary measures to keep their employees, customers and communities safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of these efforts, retailers have distributed, encouraged, incentivized and, in some instances, mandated the vaccine, he said.
“Since the president’s announcement of the vaccine mandate for private industry, the seven-day average number of cases in the United States has plummeted by more than half,” French said. “Nevertheless, the Biden administration has chosen to declare an ‘emergency’ and impose burdensome new requirements on retailers during the crucial holiday shopping season.”
As an industry that supports one in four American jobs, French said retailers have consistently requested that the administration take public comment on this new vaccine mandate.