Fedweek

DoD has set a general deadline of next Monday (November 8) for its employees to request exceptions from the Coronavirus vaccine mandate on medical or religious grounds, while also explaining in more detail how such requests are to be considered.

The newest guidance carries out an intent stated previously to provide details on possible exceptions at DoD, which with some 750,000 employees is the largest federal agency. Its latest accounting shows that 326,000 of those are fully vaccinated and another 54,000 partially vaccinated. Many of the others likely are at least partially vaccinated but their status is not yet in the records system.

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The guidance stresses that since vaccination against COVID-19 is now “a condition of employment, exemptions will be granted in limited circumstances and only where legally required.” It includes sample forms for making requests on either of the two possible grounds, adding that while use of the forms is not required, employees would have to provide the same type of information in any event. Those forms largely follow the standard model forms as recommended by the cross-agency Safer Federal Government Workforce Task Force.

Other key elements of the DoD policies include that decisions on requests must:

* be made “at an appropriate level within the organization to consider the impact, if any, of the volume of requests and to promote similar cases being handled in a consistent manner” in coordination with legal counsel.

* take into account the basis for the claim, the nature of the employee’s job responsibilities and the “reasonably foreseeable effects on the agency’s operations, including protecting other agency employees and the public from COVID-19” if the employee remains unvaccinated.

* include a process for the decision maker to obtain “any reasonably necessary additional information” from sources including the employee and agency EEO and HR officials.

* result in a written determination which in the case of a denial sets a date by which the employee must be fully vaccinated, with the first dose required within 14 days.

The guidance also repeats general policies that employees are not to be subject to discipline for failing to comply with the mandate while a request is under consideration or if one has been granted, and that in both cases those employees are to be subject to the stricter safety protocols for unvaccinated persons while onsite.

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2021 Federal Employees Handbook