As use of the various COVID vaccines becomes more widespread and the pandemic is increasingly put behind us, discussions about bringing federal employees back to work in their offices are happening more frequently.
As federal employees who have been telecommuting to avoid COVID begin to return to more frequent work at their agency offices, one question that arises is whether or not agencies can require their employees to be vaccinated. After all, the logic goes, this makes everyone safer if everyone is vaccinated. The CDC has previously said that individuals who are fully vaccinated no longer need to wear masks or keep physical distance from others. The opposing argument would say that it’s wrong to force people to take a vaccine that they may not want or feel they do not need.
So can agencies require federal employees to get COVID vaccinations? The Safer Federal Workforce Task Force has addressed this issue with a recent Q&A:
Q: Should agencies require employees to be vaccinated or inquire regarding their vaccination status?
A: The Administration strongly encourages all Americans, including Federal employees and contractors, to be vaccinated. Employees should receive paid time off to be vaccinated and to deal with any side effects. At present, COVID-19 vaccination should generally not be a pre-condition for employees or contractors at executive departments and agencies (agencies) to work in-person in Federal buildings, on Federal lands, and in other settings as required by their job duties.
Federal employees and contractors may voluntarily share information about their vaccination status, but agencies should not require federal employees or contractors to disclose such information. Responding to agency inquiries should be voluntary, and agencies should comply with any applicable laws, including requirements under the Privacy Act and the Paperwork Reduction Act, and any applicable collective bargaining obligations. When an employee or contractor voluntarily discloses that they are unvaccinated or declines to provide vaccination information, agencies should use that information to implement CDC-recommended mitigation measures, including masking and physical distancing.
The Safer Federal Workforce Task Force was established by an Executive Order issued by President Biden that was put in place to work with federal agencies to develop COVID-19 safety plans.