We have previously published a blog, Ten Takeaways from EEOC New Guidance on Employers Requiring COVID19 Vaccines, which explained how employers could require their employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19. Recently, President Biden issued an Executive Order requiring all federal agencies to mandate their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 without any test-out option.
In September 2021, the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force (SFW) provided guidance concerning this vaccination mandate, with the main takeaways summarized below:
By what date do Federal employees need to be fully vaccinated?
Federal employees must be fully vaccinated by November 22, 2021.
What does it mean to be “fully vaccinated”?
Employees will be considered to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 two weeks after they have received a specific number of doses of an approved COVID-19 vaccine. For Pfizer, Moderna, or AstraZeneca/Oxford, an employee will be considered fully vaccinated two weeks after they have received their second dose of the vaccine. For Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, an employee must wait two weeks after they have received the single-dose shot to be considered fully vaccinated.
This means that Federal employees must receive the last dose of their chosen vaccine no later than November 8, 2021, in order to be fully vaccinated by the November 22, 2021 deadline.
What if I start my government service after the November 22, 2021 deadline?
In this case, a Federal employee would need to be fully vaccinated before the date they begin work, except under limited circumstances where a reasonable accommodation is legally required.
Am I required to be vaccinated if I work remotely and do not report to a physical government workplace?
Yes, all Federal employees need to be fully vaccinated by November 22, 2021, regardless of where they are working. Remote employees are not excused from this requirement because they may still interact with the public as part of their duties, and because agencies may need to recall remote employees back to the workplace.
Are there exceptions to the requirement for all employees to be fully vaccinated?
Yes. Currently there are legal exceptions to the vaccine requirement, such as a workplace accommodation for employees with disabilities or for those with sincerely held religious beliefs, practices, or observances. Agencies will weigh a variety of factors to determine whether an exception will be required in each individual case.
If you feel that you were denied a vaccine accommodation based on your disability and/or sincerely held religious beliefs, then you will need to initiate contact with your federal agency’s EEO office within 45 days of the date your accommodation was denied.
Will Federal employees have to provide documentation to prove their vaccination status?
Yes. Government agencies will require documentation from their employees to prove vaccination, even in the event that they had already done so in the past. Employees must submit official documentation that shows:
- The type of vaccine they received;
- The dates the vaccines were administered to them; and
- The names of the health care professionals or clinic sites that administered the vaccines.
Employees may also provide a digital copy of any such documentation, including a photograph, scanned image, or PDF, as long as the above information is clearly visible. Federal employees will be required to certify under oath that the documentation is true and correct.
PLEASE NOTE that all such documentation is protected by the Privacy Act and generally should not be kept in employee personnel files. Only those individuals who have a “need to know” are permitted access to vaccination record information.
What if I refuse to be vaccinated or provide proof of vaccination?
Any Federal employees that continue to refuse to be vaccinated or to provide proof of vaccination, will be subject to their Federal employer’s disciplinary measures, up to and including job termination. However, the Federal agency must carry out the required procedural rights and follow normal agency policies when pursuing disciplinary matters. In other words, you must receive notice and other due process allowing you to challenge the discipline or termination, as applicable. Significantly, the Office of Personnel Management regulations provide that these federal agencies do not need to follow progressive discipline policies in these circumstances before proposing removal from the federal service.
What if I am an employee of a Federal Contractor?
Employees of Federal contractors and subcontractors are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by December 8, 2021. This applies to both part-time and full-time employees of Federal contractors, even if they are not directly working on a covered government contract or work site. This includes Federal contractor employees:
- In human resources, billing, and legal review;
- Who are exclusively working from home; and
- Who have previously been infected with COVID-19.
Notably, President Biden’s Executive Order urges all current Federal contractors to include language requiring vaccination in all future Federal contracts, renewal contracts and/or modified contracts.
Have there been any challenges to this mandate for Federal employees?
There has been at least one legal challenge to this mandate by a group of federal workers, service members and federal contracting employees. It was filed on September 23, 2021, so it is one to watch on this topic. The case is Costin et al v. Biden et al, Case No. 1:21-cv-02484 and is pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.