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Biden administration COVID-19 vaccine mandate will apply to Maine's public sector including teachers, school staff

The rule requires any employer with 100 workers or more to either get the COVID-19 vaccine or get regular testing and wear a mask at work.

PORTLAND, Maine — Public sector employers in Maine will be subject to the vaccine mandate under the Emergency Temporary Standard from the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which goes into effect on January 4.

The ETS said employers with 100 or more workers must require employees to either get the COVID-19 vaccine or get regular testing and wear a mask at work.

Maine is one of 26 states that follows a "state plan," meaning it is required to adopt and enforce for public employers all of OSHA's occupational safety and health standards. Maine is one of 26 states and two territories to have a state plan agreement with the federal government. 

The public sector employees include state, county, or local government employees, as well as educators and school staff, according to Maine's Department of Labor.

Maine's Bureau of Occupational Safety and Health is required to adopt and enforce for public employers OSHA’s standards within 30 days of the standard’s release. 

"OSHA’s standards are considered minimum requirements, so states may implement more rigorous standards but cannot implement less rigorous standards than those set out by OSHA. The State’s emergency rules will be in effect for 90 days after adoption," the Maine DOL website reads.

"Immediately following the adoption of the emergency State rules, the BOSH will begin the rulemaking process for permanent rules. This rulemaking process will include  the opportunity for public comment."

The BOSH has a special meeting on November 15 at 9 a.m. via Zoom. This meeting is scheduled to review public comments and adopt OSHA’s COVID-19 Healthcare Emergency Temporary Standard, which mandates use of Personal Protective Equipment for certain medical professionals in private employment. This standard was issued by OSHA in June 2021. The vaccine or test requirement will not be discussed at this meeting. 

December 2, 2021 (at time TBD): During this meeting, BOSH will adopt for the public sector OSHA’s Emergency Temporary Standard on requiring all private employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated for COVID-19 or require any workers who remain unvaccinated to produce a negative COVID-19 test result on at least a weekly basis before coming to work.

Grace Leavitt, president of the Maine Education Association, a teacher's union, said she is curious to see how the board will address public school districts with fewer than 100 employees. Maine Department of Education records show about 130 districts in the state are below that 100 worker mark.

"We have not taken a position on that at this point, but it does make sense that this should apply to all the idea is to keep students safe and educators safe and I don't think we don't want to just keep them safe in the larger districts. We want to keep them safe across our state so we can keep in-person learning going forward," said Leavitt. "We are advocating for everyone that can be vaccinated to be vaccinated or to do the regular testing."