Fedweek

Federal employees can be disciplined for refusing to take a Coronavirus test required for their jobs —that is, those not fully vaccinated and who are working onsite — according to the latest guidance from the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force.

The guidance, in the form of new questions and answers, does not say when agencies are to begin imposing such tests although it could take some time for agencies to set up the testing procedures. “Agencies may satisfy the requirement to establish a screening testing program in a variety of ways, including through in-house capabilities, a contract with one or more third party testing provider(s), an interagency agreement with another agency that has testing capabilities, or a multi-agency contract,” it says.

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The guidance stresses that the testing requirement—which it mostly speaks of as to occur once a week, although the general policy allows for twice a week—will affect only those who have not attested on the Certification of Vaccination form that they have met standards for being fully vaccinated, and only for onsite work. Testing will not apply to teleworkers except when working at a federal facility.

Regarding potential consequences of refusing to be tested, the guidance says this:

“Refusals to take a test may result in disciplinary measures. In addition to pursuing any disciplinary action, an agency may separately elect to bar the employee from the agency workplace for the safety of others pending resolution of any disciplinary or other action the agency may pursue. Any decision to bar the employee should occur in consultation with the agency’s onsite security authority, agency’s human resources office, and agency’s legal counsel.

“If the agency bars the employee from the workplace, and the nature of the employee’s work does not allow for it to be performed outside of the workplace, the employee must be placed on paid administrative leave until the question of disciplinary action is resolved. In pursuing an adverse action, the agency must also follow normal processes to provide the required notice to the employee.

“However, if an employee raises a disability or religious issue as the reason for not being tested, an agency should follow its process to review and consider what, if any, reasonable accommodation should be offered. All agency personnel designated to receive requests for disability accommodations should also know how to handle requests consistent with other federal employment nondiscrimination laws that may apply—for instance, with respect to religious accommodations.

“While the request is being resolved, the agency may bar the employee from official worksites. During that temporary period, the agency may direct the employee to work from home. If the employee’s duties cannot be performed via telework, the employee should be granted administrative leave. If the employee’s request for an accommodation is denied, and the employee does not comply with the testing requirement, the agency may pursue disciplinary action.”

That follows earlier guidance stating that employees could face discipline including firing for falsely stating on the certification form that they are fully vaccinated. Discipline including firing also is possible for VA and HHS employees who don’t comply with mandates for vaccinations for employees at those departments who deal directly with medical patients.

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2021 Federal Employees Handbook