US sets out federal contractor vaccine mandate rules

By on 28/09/2021 | Updated on 28/09/2021
The mandate “applies to all covered contractor employees” regardless of whether they work in a federal agency office, from home, or outside in the open air. Photo by Lorie Shaull via Flickr

Employees working for US government contractors must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by 8 December according to new rules issued by the White House.

Guidance released on Friday by the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, sets out what president Biden’s 9 September executive order on mandatory vaccination for all federal workers means for contractors and subcontractors.

Companies working with federal agencies will be responsible for ensuring their staff are fully vaccinated and have provided “proper vaccination documentation” by the 8 December deadline, the guidance says. After that date government contracts will contain clauses stipulating compulsory vaccination.

The mandate “applies to all covered contractor employees” regardless of whether they work in a federal agency office, from home, or outside in the open air.

The mandate also applies to “all contractor or subcontractor workplace locations”. This means that if a federal contractor works in a building with other staff, they too need to be vaccinated regardless of whether they are working on a government contract or not. This will be the case “unless a covered contractor can affirmatively determine that none of its employees on another floor or in separate areas of the building will come into contact with a covered contractor employee during the period of performance of a covered contract”.  

Far-reaching tentacles

Steve Cave, a King & Spalding attorney who specialises in government contracts, told Reuters the order is likely to impact tens of millions of US workers. “The tentacles are far reaching,” he said. “The number touched by this will be huge. It’s probably in the upper tens of millions.”’

Contractors are required to designate someone within the company to communicate the COVID-19 vaccination requirements to employees and ensure everyone has complied with the order. However, the guidance does not specify what agencies must do to ensure all contractors and subcontractors have implemented the new rules.

In order to verify their vaccination status, staff must provide their employer with a copy of official documentation such as their record of immunisation from a health care provider or pharmacy; their medical record documenting vaccination; immunisation records from a public health or state immunisation information system; or a COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card. “An attestation of vaccination by the covered contractor employee is not an acceptable substitute for documentation of proof of vaccination,” the guidance says. It also makes clear that having had COVID-19 is no substitute for vaccination.

Given that people are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, and two weeks after the single-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine, contractor employees will have to receive their final shot by 24 November at the latest to meet the 8 December deadline.

Disciplinary action

This latest information follows on from guidance published earlier this month for all federal employees, who must be fully vaccinated by 22 October or face disciplinary action “up to and including removal from federal service”.

As with the new rules for federal employees, there are certain limited grounds under which contractor employees would be exempt from the order. “Covered contractors must ensure that all covered contractor employees are fully vaccinated for COVID-19, unless the employee is legally entitled to an accommodation,” the guidance document says. Exemptions apply to contractor workers who have certain disabilities or medical conditions or who have “a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance”. A covered contractor would need to review and consider what, if any, accommodation it must offer.

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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