Fedweek

Washington, DC - Jan 23 2022: Thousands of demonstrators gather for a Defeat the Mandates American Homecoming & rally on the National Mall.

Updated: The Biden administration has said that in compliance with a federal court’s order, it is suspending enforcement of the Coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal employees pending further legal developments.

Said a notice posted January 24 by the Safer Federal Government Workforce Task Force, “To ensure compliance with an applicable preliminary nationwide injunction, which may be supplemented, modified, or vacated, depending on the course of ongoing litigation, the federal government will take no action to implement or enforce the COVID-19 vaccination requirement pursuant to Executive Order 14043 on Requiring Coronavirus Disease 2019 Vaccination for Federal Employees.”

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The administration already has filed an appeal against a nationwide injunction issued January 21 by a federal district judge in Texas in one of many suits filed against the mandate for federal employees. White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki has said that “we are confident in our legal authority here.”

The issue is widely expected to eventually end by before the U.S. Supreme Court, which already has ruled on two separate mandates—upholding one for certain medical personnel and rejecting one for larger private sector employers. Challenges to two other mandates, involving military personnel and government contractors, separately are working up through the courts.

The administration has since withdrawn its move to impose a mandate for large companies in general under an emergency authority, although it will continue to push for one through a lengthy standard procedure. That mandate—requiring either vaccination or regular testing—would have applied to the U.S. Postal Service due to semi-corporate status; postal workers are not covered by the mandate for federal employees, under which regular testing is an alternative to vaccination only as an exception on religious or medical grounds.

The statement by the interagency task force meanwhile said that its “guidance on other federal agency safety protocols based on vaccination status—including guidance on protocols related to masking, distancing, travel, testing, and quarantine—remains in effect.” Those protocols set stricter policies for those deemed not in compliance, with specifics in some cases varying by local infection rates.

That appears to leave the door open for the administration to go ahead with testing to diagnose potential infections or as regular screening testing for unvaccinated employees who have approved or pending exception requests when they are working onsite. The administration recently told agencies to have procedures in place by February 15 for the latter type.

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