Workforce

Biden's COVID vaccination mandate for feds has a deadline

 Doctor giving patient vaccine. Shutterstock ID 1498605842 by Arturs Budkevics 

Federal employees have until Nov. 22 to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

That's per the update to the safety principles issued to agencies to incorporate into their policies from the White House's Safer Federal Workforce Task Force.

According to the task force website, an individual is considered "fully vaccinated" two weeks after the second dose of the two-shot Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, or two weeks after the single-dose Johnson & Johnson jab.

President Biden's announcement on Thursday overturned earlier policies that gave feds the option to either get vaccinated or submit to regular testing. Now, agencies don't have to stand up a testing program for feds and onsite contractors, although they still can.

One thing the latest guidance still doesn't address is how agencies will collect employees' information on their vaccination status. Under the previous scheme, they were directed to use attestation forms to confirm vaccination status.

Implementation guidance on the executive order is forthcoming, the website states, and "will be released soon." The order gave the task force a week to issue guidance.

The new document does, however, tell agencies to use attestation for contractors who aren't vaccinated or part of an agency testing program until Biden's mandate for them kicks in as well. To be onsite, they'll need to either be in the agency's own program or have a negative COVID-19 test from the last three days.

Biden's latest requirement has drawn divided responses from federal employees and lawmakers alike.

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Government Operations, issued a joint statement after Biden's announcement praising the policy.

"With high numbers of coronavirus cases across the country caused by the Delta variant, especially in regions with low vaccination rates, the Biden Administration is taking a crucial step to protect American lives and slow the virus's spread," they said. "As the nation's largest employer, the federal government is setting the standard on implementing workplace safety measures during the COVID-19 pandemic."

Their Republican colleagues had a different take.

"Transparency and accountability from the Biden Administration, not draconian vaccine mandates, are what will lead us out of this pandemic. Americans' ability to make choices about their healthcare has more power than any executive order," said House Committee on Oversight and Reform Ranking Member James Comer (R-Ky.).

Federal employee unions also had a range of reactions. The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 700,000 federal and Washington, D.C. government workers, supports universal vaccination but seeks to bargain over implementation. The National Treasury Employees Union, with 150,000 members over 34 agencies, was wholly supportive of the mandate, and issued a statement declaring that the Biden administration was acting within its rights to require vaccines. The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, representing 30,000 law enforcement officers and agents across 65 agencies, said the order was "misguided" and said they would "review the legal landscape for this order and act as appropriate to support our members."

People in government buildings that aren't yet under a mandate, like visitors and contractors, will need to attest to their status, and, if unvaccinated, follow masking and distancing guidelines, the latest document states.

Unvaccinated visitors, like contractors, will also need a negative COVID-19 test from the last three days to enter, unless they're getting a benefit or public service.

The guidance also addresses how agencies should handle contact tracing and travel. Some of the policies in the document, like paid time off for side effects from vaccination or taking a family member to be inoculated, haven't changed since Biden mandated vaccination.

Although agencies no longer need a testing system for the now-scrapped scheme of testing and vaccinations, they still need a process for diagnostic testing for feds after workplace exposure, the guidance states.

The task force document also reminds agencies to abide by all collective bargaining obligations for their safety plans, although this can be post-implementation "where necessary," it says. The document also refers agencies to guidance issued in June to address reopening processes for how they should handle teleworking policies.

About the Author

Natalie Alms is a staff writer at FCW covering the federal workforce. She is a recent graduate of Wake Forest University and has written for the Salisbury (N.C.) Post. Connect with Natalie on Twitter at @AlmsNatalie.

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