US government pushes to resume vaccine mandate enforcement for federal workers

By on 14/04/2022 | Updated on 14/04/2022
A US army soldier holds up an 'I got the COVID-19 vaccine' sticker.
The government has reported that 98% of federal employees are in compliance with the mandate. U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Lisa Vines, North Carolina National Guard

The Biden administration has requested that an appeals court allow it to immediately resume the discipline process for federal employees who have not complied with the COVID-19 vaccine mandate after a court judgement deeming it unlawful was overturned.

The US Court of Appeal for the Fifth Circuit last week overturned a lower court’s ruling that had paused the mandate in January.

However, standard procedure dictates that there be a six-week period before the ruling takes effect. The government has requested this buffer be scrapped in a bid to allow departments and agencies to begin immediately suspending or firing employees who are refusing the jab and have not sought or been granted an exemption on medical or religious grounds.

Read more: Were governments right to introduce COVID-19 vaccine mandates?

The plaintiffs – Feds for Medical Freedom and a union representing Homeland Security employees – argue that there is no need to bypass normal procedure and noted that the government had itself pushed the mandate enforcement deadline for serious penalties back from 22 November 2021 to January this year.

The plaintiffs will reportedly ask the appeals court to rehear their case. This could mean the injunction issued by a Texas district court against the mandate would remain in place until the appeals court rehearing, should one be granted.

According to Government Executive, R. Trent McCotter, the plaintiffs’ attorney, said that resuming punishments only to have to pause them again as a result of future legal decisions would cause “mass confusion and chaos” for employees and agencies and create “tremendous logistical” problems.

Most agencies have plans to bring employees back into offices this month or next.

Discipline ‘up to and including termination or removal’

President Biden signed an executive order in September mandating all feds and government contractors be vaccinated against coronavirus or face discipline “up to and including termination or removal”.

The Texas court blocked the mandate, ruling that that the president does not have the authority to impose such a measure. The appeal court’s panel of judges did not consider this but instead ruled that the earlier decision did not stand and that the mandate should be reinstated because the plaintiffs had not followed the procedure set out in the Civil Service Reform Act.

The injunction is due to end in late May but could remain in place longer if the rehearing goes ahead. The White House has estimated it will spend up to an extra US$5m on testing unvaccinated employees for COVID-19 for every week the injunction is in place.  

The government has reported that 98% of federal employees are in compliance with the mandate, meaning they have either received at least one injection or have been granted or are seeking an exemption.

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About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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