Biden administration release details on vaccine mandate for federal workers

By on 23/09/2021 | Updated on 23/09/2021
Federal employees must receive their last dose of any vaccine no later than 8 November to meet the 22 November deadline. Marc A. Hermann, MTA New York City Transit via Flickr

The Biden administration has confirmed all federal workers must be fully vaccinated by 22 November or face the possibility of disciplinary action “up to and including removal from federal service”. It also confirmed that while exemptions would apply on certain medical and religious grounds, employees who currently work from home are not exempt from the order.

Guidance published by the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force on Thursday, sets out details on how agencies should implement the president’s new executive order on mandatory vaccination issued on 9 September.

The information, comprised of FAQs, makes clear that all federal workers are subject to the order irrespective of where they are based. “Employees who are on maximum telework or working remotely are not excused from this requirement,” it says, “because employees working offsite may interact with the public as part of their duties and agencies may need to recall employees who are on maximum telework or working remotely”.

Staff will be required to provide agencies with information to verify their vaccination status and will need to act quickly. Due to the two-week lag to receive full protection following the second dose of the jab, federal employees must receive their last dose “no later than November 8, 2021, to meet the November 22, 2021 deadline to be fully vaccinated,” the guidance says.

As the two shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are given three weeks apart, employees will need to get their first dose by 18 October. For Moderna, which requires a four-week interim period, federal staff will need to arrange their first jab by 11 October. Any employees getting the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine have until 8 November. “Agencies should encourage employees to plan ahead and allow enough time to receive all required vaccine doses before the 8 November deadline to have their second shot,” the guidance says.

New starters joining the federal service just before or after 22 November will be required to prove they are fully vaccinated prior to starting in their post.

Exemptions

The guidance also gave more details on the circumstances under which people could apply to be excused from the order. Federal employees are entitled to apply for an exemption “in limited circumstances” the guidance states. “In particular, an agency may be required to provide a reasonable accommodation to employees who communicate to the agency that they are not vaccinated against COVID-19 because of a disability or because of a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance.”

To determine whether an exception is legally required, agencies are advised to consider factors such as “the basis for the claim; the nature of the employee’s job responsibilities; and the reasonably foreseeable effects on the agency’s operations, including protecting other agency employees and the public from COVID-19,” adding that further guidance on “legally required exceptions will be forthcoming”.

One to watch

One agency to watch will be the Veteran Affairs Department (VA) which announced its vaccine mandate for health staff back in July. Government Executive reported that the VA is currently “making preparations” to fire staff who have failed to get vaccinated or get an exemption by their earlier deadline of 8 October. This applies to more than 100,000 VA employees who are still either unvaccinated or have yet to confirm their status.

VA secretary Denis McDonough said the goal of disciplinary action was to get people vaccinated against COVID-19. “The last thing we want to do is have to fire trained personnel,” he said. However, “if at the end of progressive discipline they have chosen not to get vaccinated or an exemption, they will be terminated from federal service”.

There has been fierce criticism of the compulsory vaccination order with several Republican senators, officials and state governors threatening legal action against the federal government. However, a poll released by Fox News on Sunday shows that the president’s plan to require vaccinations for all federal workers is supported by 58% of Americans.

About Natalie Leal

Natalie is a freelance journalist whose work has been published by The Sun Online, The Guardian, Novara Media, Positive News, and Welfare Weekly, among others. She also writes reports and case studies on global business trends for behavioural insights agency, Canvas8. Prior to working as a journalist Natalie worked for the public sector in social services for several years. She switched careers in 2013 after winning a fully funded NCTJ in a national writing competition. She holds a Masters degree in social anthropology from Sussex University where she specialised in processes of social change and international conflict and reconciliation processes.

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