Companies face pressure to act on vaccine mandates even as they wait for clear rules.

Last month, President Biden asked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to write rules that would require companies with more than 100 employees to mandate coronavirus vaccinations or weekly testing. But with OSHA still going through a lengthy rule-making process, which could take several more weeks, the White House is urging companies to act now.

Several big employers have imposed mandates since Biden’s announcement, including 3M, Procter & Gamble and the airlines American, Alaska and JetBlue. But many others, like JPMorgan Chase and Walmart, have yet to issue broad requirements. The OSHA standards would require reluctant companies to introduce mandates.

Executives continue to be worried about losing employees and managing the cost and complexity of vaccinate-or-test mandates. Retailers are eyeing the run-up to the holiday season, which is crucial to their yearly sales and for which finding labor was already set to be a challenge because of the pandemic.

Analysts at Goldman Sachs estimated last month that the vaccine requirements announced by the White House will apply to about 25 million unvaccinated workers in the United States and boost the number of vaccinated individuals by 12 million — or 3.6 percent of the population — by March. Based on those estimates, Goldman’s analysts expect that 82 percent of the total population, and 90 percent of adults, will have their first dose by mid-2022. To date, 65 percent of all Americans have had at least one dose.

President Biden is headed to Chicago on Thursday to make the case that vaccine mandates are crucial to the economic recovery. He plans to meet with Scott Kirby of United Airlines, a pioneer in corporate vaccine mandates, and to visit Clayco, a construction company set to announce its own mandate.

As Mr. Biden tries to sell the mandate, OSHA is working on the time-consuming process of writing standards that pass legal muster. The president’s mandate for large employers would affect more than 80 million workers.

The White House said at the time of Mr. Biden’s announcement, in early September, that the OSHA standards would take weeks, which is a typical timeline for an emergency standard. This process includes a number of steps, like demonstrating that workers face a grave danger at work and that a rule is necessary to address the danger.

Almost a month from the initial announcement, OSHA standards could still be a few weeks away, as it works through a long list of questions that business groups, like the Chamber of Commerce and Retail Industry Leaders Association, have about the finer points of vaccine mandates. A few of the issues include:

  • Will independent contractors count toward the 100-employee threshold?

  • Who will pay for testing? Companies? The government? The unvaccinated?

  • Will vaccine mandates include boosters, if approved?

Even after OSHA finalizes its rules, some employers wary of mandates may not act, betting that they won’t be punished because of the agency’s limited enforcement resources or that the standards could get bogged down in court.

“Some companies are looking at it and saying, ‘Great that those employers had a good experience. I don’t know if we’ll have the same experience,’” Douglas Brayley, an employment lawyer at Ropes and Gray, told The Times’s DealBook newsletter. “Or, they may look at it and say, ‘Great, they had a 91 percent vaccination rate, but we are so thinly staffed we couldn’t possibly lose 9 percent of our work force.’”

As executives await for more details, a cottage industry has emerged to help companies with everything from testing to tracking vaccinations. Smaller employers, in particular, are worried about managing the new requirements, given their limited resources.

ReturnSafe, a software company that can integrate building access systems with vaccine records, said it had gone from an average of 40 to 60 people booking a meeting via its website every week to almost 300 requests per week after President Biden’s announcement. ADP, a payroll processing company, has updated its “return to workplace” software to add features to track vaccination status and weekly Covid testing. Labor lawyers are walking companies through the complex task of handling requests for religious exemptions to vaccine mandates.

The White House released details on its mandate for federal contractors this month, which gives those workers until Dec. 8 to comply. The guidelines are stricter than the proposed rules for private employers: For example, there is no option for the unvaccinated to submit to regular testing instead of getting inoculated. A White House official said that the administration expects many companies ultimately to announce vaccine-only policies.

United Airlines, which announced a mandate in August, recently reported that 99 percent of its workers had been vaccinated and that it had received 20,000 applications for about 2,000 flight attendant positions, a much higher ratio than before the pandemic. Tyson Foods reported a 91 percent vaccination rate ahead of a November deadline, compared with less than 50 percent before its mandate announcement in August. These figures challenge the concerns among some employers that mandates would cause workers to quit, particularly in industries facing labor shortages.

Noam Scheiber contributed reporting

Newyork time

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