Recently introduced legislation would allow federal employees and federal contractors who provide proof of COVID–19 antibodies to be exempt from the COVID vaccine mandate.
The legislation, known as the Options Over Terminations Act (H.R. 5741) was introduced by Congressman Dan Newhouse (R-WA) in response to President Biden’s Executive Order mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for all federal employees.
“Federal employees who have opted not to receive the vaccine because they have natural immunity developed after recovering from the virus do not deserve to be fired,” said Newhouse. “President Biden’s overreaching mandate has severe ramifications for communities across the country, especially for communities like Central Washington who make up a large part of the federal workforce. Instead of forcing our federal workforce to choose between employment and vaccination, my bill provides them with an option – a permissible, science-based exception from President Biden’s recent Executive Order.”
As currently written, the legislation would also reimburse federal employees for the costs of antibody tests needed to show valid proof of COVID antibodies.
Other Efforts to Combat Vaccine Mandate
The bill is being introduced around the same time that some other House Republicans are raising questions about the potential negative implications of the vaccine mandate on the federal workforce.
Congressmen Jody Hice (R-GA) and James Comer (R-KY) expressed their concerns to agency leaders about the potential loss of federal employees over the vaccine mandate as well as lack of exemptions being offered to federal employees who want to opt out.
“OPM, OMB, and GSA believe there will be minimal employee attrition due to these mandates. They did not, however, substantiate the reasons for this belief. If they are wrong about attrition from either category of employees, they risk significant disruption of agency missions, major adverse consequences for workers, families and businesses, and the breach of an untold number of federal contracts,” wrote the Congressmen in their letter.
Another lawmaker went so far as to try to repeal the vaccine mandate for the federal workforce. Senator James Lankford (R-OK) introduced legislation last month that would be an outright appeal of the president’s Executive Order. Lankford said that the president had “excessively exceeded his power” by requiring federal employees to get the COVID vaccine.
“Every American should be able to make the decisions that are best for them and their families. My family made the choice to get the vaccine and I encourage every Oklahoman to get vaccinated, but no American should be forced to be vaccinated. The Stop Vaccine Mandates Act rescinds Biden’s Executive Orders—no American should have to choose between their conscience, their health, and their job,” said Lankford.
Allowable Exemptions to Vaccine Mandate
According to the federal government’s guidelines, there are currently only two broad reasons for which federal employees can be allowed an exemption from the COVID vaccine mandate: medical conditions and religious exemptions.
The Safer Federal Workforce Task Force has provided guidance to agencies and employees on how federal employees can go about seeking an exemption. If a federal employee seeks an exemption and it is denied, he or she must get the first vaccine dose within two weeks of the final determination of the denial.
The Task Force also said that any federal employees who have previously had the coronavirus are still required to be fully vaccinated.