Biden administration gives federal contractors until Dec. 8 to comply with vaccine mandate

Federal contractors have until Dec. 8 to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the Biden administration said Friday in a new round of guidance detailing the latest pandemic policies.

The guidance, issued by the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, details how agencies and federal contractors should comply with President Joe Biden’s Sept. 9 executive order.

The order described the process agencies will take to embed new safety protocols, which include the requirement that contractors be fully vaccinated, as clauses in government contracts and contract-like instruments.

The Safer Federal Workforce Task Force had until Friday to describe those new safety protocols, per the executive order. Acting Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young has approved the guidance.

Like the mandate for federal employees, contractors must ensure all of their employees are fully vaccinated, “except in limited circumstances where an employee is legally entitled to an accommodation,” the administration said.

This includes employees of a company who are not actually working on a government contract or contract-like instrument, the task force said. The vaccine policies also apply to certain subcontractors and small businesses.

It also applies to federal contractors working from home.

“These safeguards will decrease the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, which will decrease worker absence, reduce labor costs, and improve the efficiency of contractors and subcontractors performing work for the federal government,” the guidance reads.

In addition, federal contractors must comply with masking and physical distancing requirements and designate specific individuals to coordinate COVID-19 safety initiatives at their workplaces.

Contractors will ensure their employees comply with these mandates, meaning they’re responsible for collecting vaccination information and considering and granting reasonable accommodations to those who have a medical or religious objection, the administration said.

“The contractor is responsible for considering, and dispositioning, such requests for accommodations regardless of the covered contractor employee’s place of performance,” the task force said. “If the agency that is the party to the covered contract is a ‘joint employer’ for purposes of compliance with the Rehabilitation Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, both the agency and the covered contractor should review and consider what, if any, accommodation they must offer.”

Similar to the new policies for federal employees, contractors will no longer simply attest to their vaccination status. They must provide physical proof documenting their vaccination.

Again, federal contractors have until Dec. 8 to provide this information to their company, a little more than two weeks after the date that federal employees must show compliance with their own agency’s policy.

“After that date, all covered contractor employees must be fully vaccinated by the first day of the period of performance on a newly awarded covered contract, and by the first day of the period of performance on an exercised option or extended or renewed contract when the clause has been incorporated into the covered contract,” the guidance reads.

Notably, federal contractors who have already had COVID-19 are not exempt from the vaccination policy, a point that, to date, has not been part of the task force’s guidance to federal employees. The administration pointed to frequently asked questions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends vaccines for those who have already been infected.

Unlike the administration’s past vaccine policies for federal employees and contractors, the task force’s latest guidance makes no mention of testing — either for those individuals who perhaps might fail to comply with these new mandates or those who have an approved disability or religious accommodation.

Consistent with agencies’ policies for their own workforce, all federal contractors must wear a mask in the workplace in areas experiencing substantial or high COVID-19 transmission.

The guidance doesn’t describe whether or how federal agencies will check with their contractors to ensure compliance with these mandates.

Contractors, however, must designate specific individuals to communicate these policies with the company’s employees and ensure they’re complying.

The publication of the task force’s guidance was the first of several steps the Biden administration plans to take to implement these new vaccine requirements on federal contractors.

The Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council will next issue class deviation memos to agency acquisition offices by Oct. 8, with the requirements taking effect the following week on Oct. 15.

That’s a demanding timeline, said David Berteau, president and CEO of the Professional Services Council, in a recent interview.

“Historically it is very difficult to write complex guidance that becomes contract language in such a short period of time, from a starting point of no template and no clarity or agreement across the industry as to what makes sense here,” he said. “Then to implement it, there are something like 50,000 independent procurement contracting officers across the federal government. They’re all going to have be trained to implement this for every new task, award, extension or option exercise beginning Oct. 15. That’s a very, very ambitious timeline to promulgate, disseminate, train and implement complex guidance for hundreds of thousands, potentially, of contract actions.”

For contracts awarded before the Oct. 15 implementation date where performance is ongoing, agencies must incorporate the requirements at the point at which it exercises an option or makes an extension.

For new contracts, the requirements must be incorporated into new awards made on or after Nov. 14, the administration said.

The Safer Federal Workforce Task Force continued to encourage agencies to incorporate similar vaccine and safety requirements into contracts that fall under the Simplified Acquisition Threshold or aren’t explicitly covered under the president’s Sept. 9 executive order.

The administration also urged federal contractors to consider implementing these vaccine policies more broadly.

“Covered contractors are strongly encouraged to incorporate similar vaccination requirements into their non-covered contracts and agreements with non-covered contractors whose employees perform work at covered contractor workplaces but who do not work on or in connection with a federal contract, such as those contracts and agreements related to the provision of food services, onsite security or grounds keeping services at covered contractor workplaces,” the guidance reads.

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