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1.97 million Tennesseans potentially affected by President's COVID-19 vaccine mandate

COVID-19 Vaccines
Posted at 6:42 PM, Sep 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-14 13:13:57-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Thousands of employers in Tennessee may soon have to require a COVID-19 vaccine or weekly testing.

A mandate from President Joe Biden will require companies with 100 employees or more to require vaccinations or weekly COVID-19 tests. The same will be required of federal workers or people with government contracts.

Tennessee Department of Labor data shows Tennessee has 4,156 employers with 100 or more employees, which accounts for approximately 1.97 million workers in the state, roughly 60% of the labor force.

According to Vanderbilt Law Professor Jennifer Shinall, employers who willingly follow this mandate should feel protected.

"I think employers have such a compelling reason to mandate these vaccines because they want to stay open, because they want to protect themselves from liability and COVID-19 outbreaks in the workplace," Shinall said.

Shinall anticipates that there will be lawsuits filed against employers, but says plaintiffs are likely to lose because courts balance employer and employee interest.

"I think employers win," she said of those cases.

According to the Tennessee Attorney General, the U.S. Department of Labor rule announced by the president “has not even been written" and he "doubts anyone knows the true ramifications." OSHA is expected to issue the emergency rule in the coming weeks.

Shinall said even lawsuits from the states will likely fail due in part to the highly infectious Delta variant, and the responsibility of the government to ensure people's safety.

However, where Tennessee may have some flexibility is enforcement. Shinall said without a national COVID-19 vaccine registry, it is likely that states will be leaned on to track compliance, which some may not prioritize.

"Given the realities of actually trying to enforce these new federal mandates, I think states ultimately can and probably will do other things to prevent, or at least make more difficult, the actual enforcement of these mandates," she said.

On Monday, NewsChannel5 reached out to several large companies and business groups based in Middle Tennessee. None of them were ready to talk about how they'll handle the mandate because of the limited information.