OSHA suspends enforcement of COVID-19 vaccine mandate amid legal challenges

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration suspended all activities related to the implementation and enforcement of the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for big companies while the mandate is tied up in court. 

Last week, a temporary hold on the mandate was upheld by a federal appeals court. The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted the emergency stay on Nov. 13. 

"The court ordered that OSHA ‘take no steps to implement or enforce’ the ETS (COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard) ‘until further court order,’" OSHA’s website reads

"While OSHA remains confident in its authority to protect workers in emergencies, OSHA has suspended activities related to the implementation and enforcement of the ETS pending future developments in the litigation," the statement continued.

Lawyers for the Justice and Labor departments filed a response the day after the hold was upheld in which they said stopping the mandate from taking effect will only prolong the COVID-19 pandemic and would "cost dozens or even hundreds of lives per day."

RELATED: Temporary hold on Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for big companies upheld by federal appeals court

Challenges to President Joe Biden's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for private employers include officials in 27 Republican-led states, employers and several conservative and business organizations. They argue OSHA does not have the authority to impose the mandate.

The employer vaccine mandate calls for businesses with more than 100 workers to require employees to be vaccinated by Jan. 4 or wear masks and be tested weekly for COVID-19. Exemptions are provided for religious reasons and for those who work at home or only outdoors.

Because it's an unusual rule from the workplace safety agency, there is no consensus among lawyers on how the challenges will go. OSHA has issued just 10 emergency rules in the half century since it was formed. Of the six challenged in court, only one survived intact.

The Biden administration has insisted the mandate is on strong legal footing. The mandate also has the backing of the American Medical Association, which filed papers in support.

RELATED: Biden's vaccine mandate for health care workers challenged by 2nd lawsuit

On Tuesday, a random drawing using ping-pong balls decided challenges to the mandate will be consolidated in the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a panel dominated by judges appointed by Republicans.

This story was reported from Detroit. The Associated Press contributed.