How Will the New Vaccine Requirement for Federal Employees Work?

New guidance explains a lot of the details around the new COVID vaccination requirements for federal employees.

President Biden announced new vaccine requirements for all federal employees yesterday. Federal employees will now have to attest to their vaccination status or be subjected to weekly or twice weekly COVID tests, wearing masks, travel restrictions and maintaining distance from others.

So how will this work in practice?

The Safer Federal Workforce Task Force has provided details in new guidance it issued late yesterday.

Confirming Vaccination Status

Here’s what the Task Force had to say about how federal employees will now be asked to confirm their vaccination status:

Federal agencies need to ask about the vaccination status of Federal employees and onsite contractors—employees and onsite contractors must sign an attestation confirming their vaccination status, or they will be treated as not fully vaccinated for purposes of safety protocols. Federal agencies also must establish a program to test not fully vaccinated Federal employees and onsite contractors weekly or twice-weekly.

The Task Force guidance also adds, “In requesting this information, agencies should comply with any applicable Federal laws, including requirements under the Privacy Act and the Paperwork Reduction Act, and any applicable collective bargaining obligations.”

Fully vaccinated federal employees and contractors do not need to keep their distance from people or submit to the weekly testing. They will have to wear masks though in areas with high COVID transmission rates. The guidance goes into great detail in its instructions as to what kind of mask to wear, how to wear it, when not wear it, etc.

Federal agencies are allowed to establish occupancy limits for specific workspaces to help people maintain distance from one another.

For federal employees not yet vaccinated, they will get paid time off to be vaccinated and deal with any side effects. Federal employees will also receive paid time off if they need to accompany a family member being vaccinated.

As to the COVID testing, the Task Force only says, “Agencies must establish a program to test Federal employees and contractors working onsite who are not fully vaccinated, or who decline to provide information about their vaccination status, for COVID-19 weekly or twice-weekly.” It doesn’t offer any specifics on how to do this, so presumably it will be at each agency’s discretion.

Visitors to Federal Buildings

For visitors at federal buildings, they will be asked to attest to their vaccination status. If they haven’t been vaccinated or decline to provide the information, they must then provide proof of a negative COVID test from within the last 3 days before they will be allowed into the building.

However, the Task Force also adds, “These requirements related to the provision of information about vaccination and provision of proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test do not apply to members of the public entering a Federal building or Federal land to obtain a public service or benefit. If they are not fully vaccinated, these visitors must comply with all relevant CDC guidance, including wearing a mask and physically distancing from other people.”


Fully vaccinated federal employees are not subject to any governmentwide travel restrictions at this time.

Unvaccinated federal employees or those who refuse to confirm their vaccination status are subject to travel restrictions, however. Domestic travel should be mission critical trips only, and international travel should be avoided if at all possible (but it’s ok if it’s mission critical, such as military deployments or diplomats traveling). Heads of agencies are also instructed to provide specific guidance as to the particulars of their agencies’ missions with respect to establishing travel needs.

Collective Bargaining

Lastly, the Task Force guidance notes that all of this is subject to collective bargaining agreements with unions. “…agencies are reminded to satisfy applicable collective bargaining obligations…when implementing workplace safety plans,” according to the guidance. How that may ultimately impact all of this remains to be seen, but it could definitely be a factor.

A copy of the full guidance from the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force is included below.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.