Businesses and their customers in the Twin Cities were whipsawed this week by government efforts to restrict — or loosen — rules related to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The biggest move of the week happened Thursday when the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration's vaccine-or-testing mandate on employees at large businesses.
That move ended up affecting actions by the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul, who a day earlier required restaurants, bars and other indoor dining businesses to obtain proof of vaccines or negative COVID-19 tests from customers and workers. The mayors dropped the worker mandate on Friday after the court ruling.
Separately, the Minnesota Department of Human Services this week eased up on a rule that forced the state's child care providers to quarantine any child who had been in close contact with someone testing positive for the virus.
Here's were it all stood by the weekend:
How did the Supreme Court's decision affect Minnesota?
More than 4,500 employers in Minnesota, employing 1.4 million, would have been affected by the federal requirement that employees be vaccinated or routinely tested. In a separate ruling, the high court upheld a similar federal mandate on health care providers that receive federal Medicare and Medicaid funds, or virtually all hospitals and nursing homes in the state.
Can a business still require employees follow a similar vaccine and testing program?
Private-sector employers can roll out a vaccine and testing program that mirrors what was planned. "They absolutely can," said Jack Sullivan, a Dorsey & Whitney attorney who advises employers. "They can take the OSHA policy that was going to be mandatory and call it the policy they're choosing to adopt."
Can an employer roll out an alternative program, such as a weekly testing program without a vaccine requirement?
There's nothing that would stop them from doing that, Sullivan said. They would have to comply with applicable laws and be aware of requests for reasonable accommodation, such as for disability or religious beliefs. Employers should also ensure that medical information is kept private, and he noted that companies are using secure systems for employees to verify vaccination status. "That's better than, 'Hey everyone, e-mail me your vaccination cards,' " he said.
What if an employee doesn't want to work in a place where there's no vaccine or testing requirement, or an employee doesn't want to comply with a corporate vaccine or test rule?
Judges have ruled that people can be required to comply with workforce rules, Sullivan said. Or, find another employer unless they meet the criteria for a reasonable accommodation.
What should business owners know about mask mandates?
Pay close attention to local rules. Consult an attorney or the municipality to understand whether a rule applies to your business.
What has changed about vaccine or test requirements at bars and restaurants and other food venues in Minneapolis and St. Paul?
The requirements are still taking effect next Wednesday at most establishments and on Jan. 26 at large event venues where tickets are sold, like Target Center and Xcel Energy Center. But only patrons will have to show proof of vaccine or a recent negative test for COVID-19. Employees won't. Neither will children age 5, who are too young to be vaccinated against the virus.
What rule changed for Minnesota's child care centers this week?
The state dropped its requirement that child care providers, in order to maintain their license to operate, automatically quarantine children and staff who have been in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. That rule led to repeated shutdowns of preschools and child care centers and disrupted the lives of parents who suddenly had to take care of children until a quarantine period passed.
Can child care centers still impose quarantines on kids who have been close to someone with the virus?
They can. The state Department of Health and federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that they do. But the DHS move gives child care operators the option to make their own choice.