Contractors get new January deadline to comply with federal vaccine mandate

The White House on Thursday pushed back the deadline for contractors to comply with its federal vaccine mandate. Contractors now have until Jan. 4, a month late...

This story has been updated on Nov. 10, 2021 to reflect the dates by which contractor employees must receive their final vaccine dose.

The Biden administration on Thursday pushed back the deadline for federal contractors to comply with its vaccine mandate.

Contractor employees now have until Jan. 4, 2022 to receive their final dose of vaccine, the same deadline the White House set for private sector companies with 100 workers or more to comply with vaccine and testing requirements from the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In both cases, employees who meet the deadline would be considered fully vaccinated by Jan. 18, a deadline the administration’s Safer Federal Workforce Task Force specified in guidance it issued to contractors on Nov. 10.

The administration released the details of OSHA’s emergency temporary standard (ETS), as well as new vaccine requirements for health care workers participating in Medicare or Medicaid programs.

The Biden administration estimates the emergency temporary standard will apply to roughly 84 million Americans, while the new rule from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will cover 17 million people.

“Federal contractors may have some workplaces subject to requirements for federal contractors and other workplaces subject to the newly-released COVID-19 vaccination and testing ETS,” the White House said Thursday morning in a fact sheet on the new policies. “To make it easy for all employers to comply with the requirements, the deadline for the federal contractor vaccination requirement will be aligned with those for the CMS rule and the ETS.”

With Thursday’s announcement, contractors have four more weeks to ensure they’re complying with the administration’s federal vaccine mandate. The previous deadline was Dec. 8.

The administration said the new deadline will bring some consistency for employers and federal contrators.

“This will make it easier for employers to ensure their workforce is vaccinated, safe, and healthy, and ensure that federal contractors implement their requirements on the same timeline as other employers in their industries,” the White House said.

“We wanted to do this because we’re really aligning it to make it easier — to make it as easy as possible for businesses to implement these requirements and for workers to comply,” a senior administration official told reporters Wednesday night. “That said, there’s no reason to wait, and we know that many employers are not waiting.  And we hope that employers and workers will get vaccinated as quickly as possible, because that’s obviously our path out of this pandemic.”

The White House said it will not apply the OHSA emergency temporary standard or the CMS rule to workplaces subject to the federal vaccine mandate for contractors, so employers won’t have to track multiple requirements.

While federal contractors now have the same Jan. 4 deadline as other private sector companies, there’s a key difference between the two policies.

Under the new OSHA standard, companies with 100 employees or more have to ensure their workers have received either one or both shots by Jan. 4 — or tests for COVID-19 at least weekly.

Under the federal vaccine mandate for contractors, employees don’t have the option to be tested weekly, at least not at this point.

The Biden administration’s Safer Federal Workforce Task Force has said contractor employees who have received an approved medical or religious accommodation from the mandate will have to follow masking, social distancing and other safety protocols, which may include testing.

The new deadline for contractors comes as nearly 20 states have sued the Biden administration over the federal vaccine mandate, and some members of industry had voiced concerns about the original December deadline and the ever-changing guidance on the new procurement policy.

The task force last updated federal vaccine mandate guidance for contractors on Monday, stating companies had to make a “good faith” effort to comply. It also clarified companies don’t have to resolve all pending requests for medical or religious accommodations from their employees before starting work on a covered contract or at a covered workplace.

And it recommended contractors evaluate the three-step process the administration is planning to use to enforce and discipline federal employees who fail to become fully vaccinated by the upcoming deadline.

Those additional clarifications could bring more flexibility to contractors trying to comply with the federal vaccine mandate, attorneys said.

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