Biden administration sets November deadline for federal employee vaccine mandate

Federal employees have until Nov. 22 to be fully vaccinated in accordance with the president’s new mandate, the Biden administration said Monday.

The Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, led by the White  House COVID-19 Response Team, the Office of Personnel Management and General Services Administration, offered up a few more details on what agencies and employees should expect from the president’s new vaccine executive order.

“Federal executive branch employees must be fully vaccinated, except in limited circumstances where an employee is legally entitled to a reasonable accommodation,” the task force said in a series of updated “model safety principles” released Monday. “Agencies must work expeditiously so that their employees are fully vaccinated as quickly as possible and by no later than Nov. 22, 2021.”

The task force said it’s preparing additional guidance on how agencies should implement the president’s new executive order and will issue it “soon.”

The executive order itself, which President Joe Biden signed last Thursday, gave the task force seven days to issue guidance on how agencies should implement the new vaccine mandate.

Federal agencies are no longer required to stand up testing programs for unvaccinated employees and onsite contractors, although they can if they choose, the task force said.

Because COVID-19 vaccination is now a requirement, employees will take duty time to receive their doses. Agencies should no longer grant additional paid time off for individuals to receive a vaccine, the task force said.

Employees who can’t receive a vaccine within their usual work hours can do so on overtime, the administration said.

In addition, employees will continue to receive paid administrative leave to recover from any side effects. They’ll also receive paid time off to accompany a family member getting the vaccine, a policy that went into effect back in late July.

The latest guidance for onsite federal contractors, however, is more complex.

Because the president’s EO on vaccinating federal contractors includes a significant ramp-up time before agencies can implement the new policy, unvaccinated onsite contractors must continue to comply with testing requirements until they’re formally subject to the contractual requirements.

Specifically, that means unvaccinated onsite contractors must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test from no later than three days before entering a federal facility — or be enrolled in an agency’s testing program.

The same general rules still apply to visitors to federal buildings as well, the Biden administration said. Visitors must attest to their vaccination status before entering a federal facility. Unvaccinated visitors or those who decline to provide their status must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test from three days prior to entering the building, the task force said.

The policy doesn’t apply to visitors entering a federal building to receive government benefits.

Under Biden’s vaccine order for federal contractors, the Office of Management and Budget and the Federal Acquisition Council will make vaccination a contractual requirement of doing business with the government.

Those requirements won’t likely go into effect immediately, since OMB must publish the details of the new vaccine mandate in the Federal Register, and agency acquisition offices have deadlines in early October to begin embedding these details in individual contracts.

Mask policies are still in effect for federal employees, contractors and visitors in areas of high-transmission regardless of vaccination status, the administration said.

The new vaccine mandate for federal employees and contractors has so far earned mixed reactions from unions, lawmakers and other groups.

The Professional Managers Association, an organization representing IRS managers, was one of several employee groups that raised concerns about the Biden administration’s previous vaccine and testing policy.

The new vaccine mandate is at least “clear and realistic,” PMA said. It was unclear whether agencies were able to stand up testing regimes under the administration’s previous vaccine policy.

“This is a welcome departure from the administration’s still unrealized plan to test unvaccinated employees,” Chad Hooper, PMA’s executive director, said in a statement. “The testing plan exacerbated resource constraints, lacked effective coordination between central management offices and agency leaders, and exposed managers to potential liability.”

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