November 18, 2021

Our hospital has more than 100 employees.  Do we have to comply with both the OSHA vaccine mandate and the one issued by CMS?

OSHA has issued two different Emergency Temporary Standards (“ETS”) that are the source of some confusion.  The first was issued on June 21, 2021.  It required that covered health care employers must develop and implement a COVID-19 plan to identify and control COVID-19 hazards in the workplace and implement requirements to reduce transmission of COVID-19 in their workplaces related to the following:  patient screening and management, standard and transmission-based precautions, personal protective equipment (facemasks, respirators), controls for aerosol-generating procedures, physical distancing of at least six feet when feasible, physical barriers, cleaning and disinfection, ventilation, health screening and medical management, training, anti-retaliation, recordkeeping, and reporting.  The June OSHA ETS encouraged but did not require vaccination by requiring employers to provide reasonable time and paid leave for employee vaccinations and any side effects.

In early November, OSHA issued a second emergency temporary standard requiring worker vaccinations for any employers (not just health care employers) with 100 or more employees or weekly testing for those who remain unvaccinated without an eligible exemption.  This ETS that was enjoined by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals this past Friday, and the 5th Circuit  ordered that OSHA take no steps to implement or enforce the ETS until further court order.  CMS said it worked closely with OSHA to ensure that the November regulations of both agencies were complementary.

The FAQs issued with the CMS rule on November 5 contained the following guidance:

Q. Which rule is a given health care facility expected to follow – the CMS Omnibus Staff Vaccination Rule, the Executive Order on Ensuring Adequate COVID Safety Protocols for Federal Contractors, the OSHA COVID-19 Healthcare Emergency Temporary Standard, or the upcoming (or new) OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard?

A.  If a Medicare- or Medicaid-certified provider or supplier falls under the requirements of CMS’s Omnibus Staff Vaccination Rule, it should look to those requirements first. Health care facilities are generally subject to new federal vaccination requirements based on primacy.  If facilities participate in and are certified under the Medicare and Medicaid programs and are regulated by the CMS health and safety standards known as the Conditions of Participation 11 (CoPs), Conditions for Coverage (CfCs), and Requirements for Participation, then they are expected to abide by the requirements established in the CMS Omnibus Staff Vaccination Rule.  This rule takes priority above other federal vaccination requirements.  CMS’s oversight and enforcement will exclusively monitor and address compliance for the provisions outlined in the CMS Omnibus Staff Vaccination Rule, while also continuing to monitor for proper infection control procedures as established under previous regulations.  The OSHA COVID-19 Employer Emergency Temporary Standard (for facilities with greater than 100 employees) applies to employers that are not subject to the preceding two regulations.  Facilities should review the inclusion criterion for these regulations and comply with all applicable requirements.

Hospitals that participate in Medicare subject to the CMS’s Omnibus Staff Vaccination Rule which amended the Conditions of participation, so per this FAQ guidance hospitals are NOT subject to the November ETS which requires weekly testing for those who remain unvaccinated without an eligible exemption.  Therefore, testing is not an alternative for staff who have not been exempted from the CMS vax requirement to comply with the rule.

On the other hand, while testing is not a substitute for vaccinations under the CMS rule, hospitals are allowed to require testing of unvaccinated/exempt workforce members as a mitigation measure.  The CMS FAQs say:  “In granting such exemptions or accommodations, employers must ensure that they minimize the risk of transmission of COVID19 to at-risk individuals, in keeping with their obligation to protect the health and safety of patients” but this does not require testing.

CMS explained in the preamble to the regulation:  “we considered requiring daily or weekly testing of unvaccinated individuals.  We have reviewed scientific evidence on testing and found that vaccination is a more effective infection control measure.  As such, we chose not to require such testing for now but welcome comment.  Of course, nothing prevents a provider from exercising testing precautions voluntarily in addition to vaccination.”  86 Fed. Reg. 61614.

However, the September 2020 CMS emergency rule that established new requirements for Long Term Care facilities (nursing homes) to test facility residents and staff for COVID-19 is still in effect.  The new FAQs say:  “CMS expects continued compliance with this requirement.”

If you have a quick question about this, e-mail Dan Mulholland at

Also, listen to HortySpringer’s latest podcast on the CMS vaccine mandate here.