The Biden administration is delaying enforcement of the vaccine mandate for federal employees until after the first of the year according to an announcement from the White House Office of Management and Budget.
Although the deadline for federal employees to get fully vaccinated was November 22, the memo said that this was not “an endpoint or cliff” and the intent was not to punish federal employees, but rather to get as many of them as vaccinated against COVID-19 as possible. The memo noted that there has been a 92% compliance rate among federal employees so far that was announced by the White House last week.
Agencies are encouraged to continue the “education and counseling” process for federal employees explaining why they should get a COVID-19 vaccination. At most, the memo recommended a letter of reprimand for non-compliant federal employees.
The memo reads, in part, “We encourage your agencies to continue with robust education and counseling efforts through this holiday season as the first step in an enforcement process, with no subsequent enforcement actions, beyond that education and counseling and, if warranted, a letter of reprimand, for most employees who have not yet complied with the vaccination requirement until the new calendar year begins in January.”
The American Federation of Government Employees commended the announcement and said that the Biden administration “has done the right thing” by delaying enforcement of the vaccine mandate until after the Christmas season. AFGE national president Everett Kelley said in a statement:
The administration has done the right thing by listening to federal workers, taking their concerns seriously, and modifying the vaccine mandate policy to give those who haven’t yet gotten vaccinated some peace of mind this holiday season.
Once again, President Biden has demonstrated his commitment to hearing from rank-and-file federal employees through their unions and responding to workers’ concerns.
While we applaud the new policy that defers suspensions and removals, we continue to encourage all our members who are able to obtain one of the FDA-approved anti-COVID vaccines as soon as they possibly can.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki denied that the memo from OMB meant that the deadline for the vaccine mandate had moved or changed. In a press briefing today, she said that the deadline of November 22 had already passed:
Nothing has changed on our deadline or our approach to the federal employee vaccine requirement.
The deadline was last week: November 22nd. And we already have 96.5 percent compliance across a diverse workforce that is the largest in the United States.
I can’t assess exactly what led to any confusion, but what — OMB put out a comment — or a public statement this morning, conveying that counseling, of course, would be the first step. That’s long been our approach in our policy from the United States government.
But it’s inaccurate to suggest — or any reporting — that we have delayed anything or changed that; the deadline has already passed. We’re working to implement.
Enforcement Guidelines for the Vaccine Mandate
The Safer Federal Workforce Task Force updated its vaccine guidelines again today with revised information on enforcement options for federal agencies. The update notes that agencies have some additional leeway with enforcement of the vaccine mandate because “operational needs of agencies and the circumstances affecting a particular employee may warrant departure from these guidelines if necessary…”
The Task Force states:
Consistent with the Administration’s policy, agencies should initiate an enforcement process to work with employees to achieve their compliance. Accordingly, agencies should initiate the enforcement process with an appropriate period of education and counseling, including providing employees with information regarding the benefits of vaccination and ways to obtain the vaccine. If the employee does not demonstrate progress toward becoming fully vaccinated through completion of a required vaccination dose or provision of required documentation by the end of the counseling and education period, agencies may issue a letter of reprimand, followed by a short suspension (generally, 14 days or less). Continued noncompliance during the suspension can be followed by proposing removal.
Operational needs of agencies and the circumstances affecting a particular employee may warrant departure from these guidelines if necessary, including whether to expedite or extend the enforcement process. For example, agencies may consider the length of the education and counseling period or following an initial brief suspension (14 days or less) with a longer second suspension (15 days or more), rather than moving from a first suspension to proposal of removal. That said, consistency across Government in enforcement of this Government-wide vaccine policy is desired, and the Executive Order does not permit exceptions from the vaccination requirement except as required by law.
Agencies may initiate the enforcement process for employees who fail to submit documentation to show that they have completed receiving required vaccination dose(s), as long as those employees have not received an exception or extension, or the agency is not considering an exception or extension request from the employee.