Agencies shouldn’t ask federal employees for vaccination proof, task force says

More details are trickling out from the Biden administration about its vaccine and testing policy for federal employees and contractors.

Agencies should not ask federal employees to provide proof of their vaccination status, the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force said in a series of frequently asked questions updated Friday.

“If the agency receives a good faith allegation that strongly suggests that an employee made a false statement on the certification of vaccination form, the agency may request documentation as part of its investigation into the alleged false statement,” the task force said.

The Biden administration has previously said employees could face criminal penalties, as well as disciplinary action, if they lie on the attestation forms.

It’s not appropriate to ask employees who have said they’re vaccinated but show symptoms of COVID-19 to request proof of inoculation either, the administration said.

Agencies should email the vaccine attestation form to all employees, including those who are teleworking or working remotely from a distance. Agencies will consider employees who fail to complete the form unvaccinated, though the administration’s guidance doesn’t mention a timeline.

Employees can indicate a change in their vaccination status by filling out a new form and submitting it to their agency, the administration said.

Federal employees are considered fully vaccinated if they’re at least two weeks past their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna shot, or two weeks past the single shot of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.

There is no post-vaccination time limit — at least not yet — the task force said, perhaps putting to rest some questions about whether federal employees would need booster shots to be considered “fully vaccinated” under the administration’s policy.

Most agencies have the authority to store vaccine disclosures in accordance with the Office of Personnel Management’s regulations on employee medical records, the task force said. Those not subject to OPM’s regulations should assure employees they’re storing their information in accordance with the Privacy Act.

The rules, however, are different for onsite federal contractors.

For now, contractors should receive and complete the attestation forms before arriving onsite to work. They should keep the forms with them while at work and “may be asked to show the form upon entry to a federal building or federally controlled indoor worksite and to a federal employee who oversees their work,” the task force said.

“The agency will not maintain certification of vaccination forms from contractors at this time unless an agency has a system of records notice that covers its collection of this information from onsite contractors,” the FAQs read. “Any such collection, storage, or maintenance of the attestation disclosure forms may implicate the Privacy Act and Paperwork Reduction Act.”

The administration suggested agencies could find other ways of doing this. Some agencies may have a system of records notice that will allow them to collect vaccine disclosure information from contractors, the task force said. They also could, for example, have their vendors certify the vaccination status of their contractor employees on the agency’s behalf, as long as it’s consistent with the terms of the contract.

Unvaccinated onsite contractors will be enrolled in their agency’s testing program or will be required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test result from the previous three days before entering a federal building, the task force said.

Visitors, including federal employees attending an event at another agency, should also complete an attestation form and carry it with them while in the building.

The administration’s latest guidance comes as the Government Managers Coalition, a group of five associations that represents federal supervisors, has asked the administration for more guidance and support to implement the new vaccine and testing policy.

“Agencies often interpret OPM guidance in different ways, as each organization views the guidance through different organizational structures and programmatic lenses and lexicons,” the coalition wrote Thursday in a letter to the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force. “This is confusing and problematic for our members who lack central, authoritative guidance.”

The coalition, which includes the Senior Executives Association, Federal Managers Association, Professional Managers Association, Federal Aviation Administration Managers Association and the National Council of Social Security Management Associations, reiterated many of the concerns they expressed to Federal News Network last week.

Managers aren’t sure how their agencies will pay for COVID-19 testing programs, and they’re concerned about handling potential confrontations with employees who refuse to comply.

“Managers are likely to face employment disputes enforcing COVID-19 protocols, especially as the administration strengthens potential disciplinary consequences to employees. How will agencies protect and support these managers?” the coalition said.

These questions put more stress on managers when many have taken on new responsibilities during the pandemic. The coalition said many of their members are working longer hours to open mail and scan documents so their employees can continue to work from home.

“This is in addition to the management jobs they are still expected to perform, because other employees are unable or unwilling to enter the workspace,” the letter reads. “Managers are working overtime and on weekends to try and help their organizations and the administration keep up.”

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