White House details discipline process for feds who flout vaccine mandate rules

By on 04/10/2021 | Updated on 04/10/2021
The new guidance states that agencies’ unique operational needs “may warrant departure" from the guidelines but that consistency across government in enforcement of the rules is desired. Photo courtesy Mecklenburg County via Flickr

Federal government workers who fail to comply with president Biden’s vaccine mandate will be subject to an “enforcement process” that includes counselling, suspension and ultimately dismissal, according to new guidance.

The update, issued by the White House Safer Workforce Task Force on Friday, sets out the steps agencies should take if federal employees refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or fail to provide proof of vaccination.

It stated that those who refuse to comply with the 9 September executive order, which mandated all federal employees to be fully vaccinated by November 22, would be acting unlawfully and “are subject to discipline, up to and including termination or removal”.

Agencies should, it said, first provide reluctant feds with five days of education and counselling, including providing information on the benefits of vaccination and how to get the jab. But if an employee still fails to “demonstrate progress” in becoming vaccinated by the end of this period, they should be suspended from their duties for 14 days or less.

Continued noncompliance during the suspension “can be followed by proposing removal”, the guidance stated.

Consistency across government

The update said that agencies’ unique operational needs and circumstances affecting a particular employee “may warrant departure from these guidelines if necessary”, but that consistency across government in enforcement of the rules was desired.    

To meet the 22 November deadline, the White House has previously stated that federal employees must receive their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine no later than 8 November. The updated guidance said agencies can begin the enforcement process on 9 November.

If an employee submits proof of progress towards full vaccination at any stage of the enforcement process, agencies should pause disciplinary action to allow them a reasonable period to become fully vaccinated, the update said.  

It added that agencies should not take disciplinary action against an employee who has received an exception, which apply on certain medical and religious grounds by law, or if an exception request is under consideration. But, if an employee does claim an exception, any agency “should follow its ordinary process to review and consider what, if any, accommodation it must offer”. And if that request is denied, the guidance states that agencies should then take disciplinary action against employees.

The White House earlier confirmed that 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 said, “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”.

Eighty million unvaccinated Americans

During a briefing shortly after the signing of the vaccine mandate last month, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the “overarching objective” is to reduce the number of unvaccinated Americans, which stands at around 80 million.

“We want to reduce that number, decrease hospitalizations and deaths and allow our children to go to school safely… Obviously the federal workforce is one of the largest in the country and we would like to be a model of what we think other businesses and organizations should do around the country,” she said.

The vaccine mandate also applies to employees of US federal government contractors and is expected to impact on tens of millions of workers.  

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 showed that the president’s plan is supported by 58% of Americans.

Countries including Canada and Italy have also made the vaccination against COVID-19 mandatory for government workers.

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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