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The counseling phase of the series of disciplinary steps for federal employees who haven’t either complied with the Coronavirus vaccine mandate or sought an exception is getting underway at more federal agencies, although unevenly.

As was the case with numbers on vaccinations and requests for exceptions until the White House released figures last week, there has been no central accounting of the counseling process. The VA—which also has been the most transparent about vaccinations and exceptions—earlier had said that it has started that phase for many of its employees and that compliance with the mandate has increased as a result.


Among other major agencies recently starting the process is the Justice Department; there have been scattered reports from other agencies, as well. Further, where the process is underway, approaches differ, with in-person discussions in some case but just formal notice letters in others.

According to administration guidance, agencies are to “remind the employee again of the vaccination requirement, emphasize that failure to comply will lead to discipline up to and including removal or termination, address any questions, and inform the employee that they will have a short period of time (e.g., 5 days) to submit documentation establishing either the initiation or completion of vaccination, as applicable, or request an exception.”

Counseling, while deemed the first step of the disciplinary process for non-compliance under the administration’s guidance, is not appealable. Nor is the what is envisioned as the next typical phase, an unpaid suspension of 14 days or less. Suspensions that short cannot be challenged before the MSPB nor through union grievances, for employees covered by that process.

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