Workforce

Vaccine enforcement coming as soon as Nov. 9, OPM says

Cdmr. James Fish, from West Chester, New York, USS Gerald R. Ford’s (CVN 78) Gun Boss, receives a COVID-19 vaccine at the McCormick Gym onboard Naval Station Norfolk, April 8, 2021. Ford is in port Naval Station Norfolk for a scheduled window of opportunity for maintenance as part of her 18-month post delivery set and trials phase of operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Jackson Adkins) 

Cdmr. James Fish receives a COVID-19 vaccine at Naval Station Norfolk in April 2021. (U.S. Navy photo)

Feds who don't comply with the Biden administration's vaccination mandate could start seeing consequences as soon as Nov. 9, according to new guidance on the discipline process sent to agencies from the Office of Personnel Management on Friday.

That's because of the two dose requirements for many vaccines, and the two-week waiting period after for the vaccine to someone to be considered fully vaccinated.

The Biden administration has set a Nov. 22 deadline for feds to comply, and it's already made clear that feds who don't follow this new requirement will face discipline up to removal from their jobs.

For people getting the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, they'd need their first shot by Oct. 18 and second by Nov. 8 to meet that deadline. For Moderna, feds would need the first shot by Oct. 11 and second by Nov. 8. For Johnson and Johnson, a one dose vaccine, feds would have until Nov. 8 to get the shot.

"Given this timeline, agencies may initiate their enforcement process as soon as Nov. 9, 2021 for employees who have not completed their vaccination dose(s) by Nov. 8," says a memo from OPM director Kiran Ahuja to agencies. The new details are also mirrored in updated sections of the website for the Safer Federal Workforce Taskforce, which has been tasked with giving health and safety guidance for the federal workforce.

The recommended discipline approach starts with education and counselling, where the agency should remind the employee of the requirement and potential consequences for not complying, answer any questions they might have and tell them that they have a "short period of time" to show documentation of their vaccination process, an accompanying OPM FAQ states. It offers five days as an example for that time period.

There are exceptions for feds who qualify under religious or medical reasons.

For those with an approved exception, or with a request for one under consideration, the agency should not start discipline. In the counseling period, the fed might also request an exception if applicable, the FAQ states. Agencies should follow their normal reasonable accommodations process for this.

At the end of that counseling and education period, feds that still don't comply will be subject to discipline up to termination from federal service.

The preferred approach is progressive discipline, OPM stated, suggesting suspensions up to 14 days as a shorting point "to encourage an employee to be vaccinated." More discipline for feds that still won't get the jab should then follow.

Agencies will have to follow the normal process and give required procedural rights, and follow any required by collective bargaining agreements, when they the guidance says. Agencies should also give similar penalties to people in similar positions and in the same work unit.

Throughout this discipline process, feds shouldn't be put on administrative leave. Instead, they'll follow safety protocols for unvaccinated people when they're in the office.

The guidance also states that if a federal employee does comply after the disciplinary process starts, that discipline can be suspended, pending the receipt of documentation for the final dose of the vaccine.

For example, if the fed doesn't get the second dose within 5 weeks, they can be suspended again and subject to removal, it says.

The guidance also addresses new hires. Agencies should put the vaccination requirement in their job opportunity announcements, tentative and final employment offers, it says. OPM encouraged agencies to require all new employees to be fully vaccinated before they start, although there can be exceptions.

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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