Federal employees must now show proof of COVID-19 vaccination, the Biden administration said Thursday, the latest change in the White House’s evolving policy for the workforce.
The vaccination requirement applies to all executive branch employees, including those who are currently teleworking, the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force said Thursday in new guidance detailing how agencies should implement the president’s recent executive order.
“Employees who are on maximum telework or working remotely are not excused from this requirement, including because employees working offsite may interact with the public as part of their duties and agencies may need to recall employees who are on maximum telework or working remotely,” the guidance reads.
The order, which the president signed last Thursday, requires COVID-19 vaccinations for all federal employees. A second order described the process the Biden administration will take to make federal vaccine mandates a contractual requirement for doing business with the government.
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The Safer Federal Workforce Task Force had until Thursday to issue guidance describing the details for employees, according to the deadline detailed in the president’s executive order.
Federal employees can provide a copy of their vaccination record from a health care provider or pharmacy, a copy of the COVID-19 vaccination record card, a copy of their medical records documenting the vaccination or some other official document from a public health or state immunization system, the administration said.
The documents must show the type of vaccine the employee received, the dates the doses were given and the name of the health care professional or site where the vaccine was administered. Employees can provide a digital copy or photograph of these records, as long as the necessary data points are legible.
Under the administration’s previous vaccine policy, agencies were explicitly told not to ask for documentation from their employees.
“Employees must certify under penalty of perjury that the documentation they are submitting is true and correct,” the guidance reads.
The guidance for federal contractors continues to evolve.
Federal contractors do not need to show proof of vaccination, at least not until they’re contractually required to do so, the task force said. Contractors should continue to simply attest to their vaccination status until their agencies make it a contractual requirement, a process that theoretically will play out over the next several weeks.
However, the task force said agencies can now choose to incorporate the federal vaccine mandates into contracts before the executive order formally requires them to do so. In addition, the administration “strongly encouraged” agencies to incorporate the vaccine requirements into contracts that aren’t covered by the recent executive order, including, for example, contracts under the Simplified Acquisition Threshold.
“If the agency has reasonable grounds to believe that an onsite contractor employee made a false statement on the certification of vaccination form, the agency may require that the contractor verify the contractor employee’s vaccination documentation and confirm to the agency that the employee has been vaccinated, as part of the agency’s review of the matter,” the task force guidance reads.
Visitors to federal buildings will continue to attest to their vaccination status; they do not need to provide proof, the administration said.
Federal employees must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 22, which the Biden administration announced earlier this week. Because individuals aren’t considered fully inoculated until they’re two weeks past the second dose of a two-shot vaccine, employees will need to physically receive their shots well before the Nov. 22 deadline.
Employees should receive their second dose of the two-shot Pfizer or Moderna series by Nov. 8 in order to comply with the mandate, the administration said. For those receiving the one-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine, the latest an employee could wait and still comply with the mandate is, again, Nov. 8.
Individuals who start their federal service after the Nov. 22 deadline must be fully vaccinated before their start date, the Biden administration said, although some exceptions may apply.
As the Biden administration has said previously, there are a few legal exceptions.
Federal employees who tell their agencies they’re not vaccinated because of a disability or “sincerely held religious belief, practice or observance” may be eligible for an exemption from the mandate.
“Determining whether an exception is legally required will include consideration of factors such as the basis for the claim; the nature of the employee’s job responsibilities; and the reasonably foreseeable effects on the agency’s operations, including protecting other agency employees and the public from COVID-19,” the new guidance reads. “Because such assessments will be fact- and context-dependent, agencies are encouraged to consult their offices of general counsel with questions related to assessing and implementing any such requested accommodations.”
The Biden administration said it will release more guidance on legal exemptions to the federal vaccine mandate at a later date.
When it comes to enforcing the federal vaccine mandate, agencies, “as an initial matter,” should give their employees information about the benefits of the vaccine and ways to obtain it, although they’re not required to provide doses physically on site.
For those who continue to refuse the vaccine, agencies should pursue disciplinary measures, up to and including removal from federal service.
“In pursuing any adverse action, the agency must provide the required procedural rights to an employee and follow normal processes, including any agency policies or collective bargaining agreement requirements concerning disciplinary matters,” the task force guidance reads.
Notably, the task force said agencies should not place employees on paid administrative leave while pursuing disciplinary actions against those who refuse vaccination, another change — or at least a significant clarification — from previous policy.
Previous policy stated unvaccinated employees who refused to comply with testing protocols could go on administrative leave while their agency proceeded with the disciplinary process.
The Biden administration continued to reiterate that agencies should talk to their unions about the federal vaccine mandate as early as possible.
“Additional guidance on the policy will be forthcoming that will address further implementation issues,” the task force said. “Accordingly, bargaining over this governmentwide policy will be limited to impact and implementation issues not otherwise addressed in the guidance. Moreover, agencies must implement governmentwide policy by the deadline, so any bargaining that has not been completed by the time implementation must begin will have to be finished post-implementation.”