A group of House members has asked OPM to require that agencies grant administrative leave for federal employees to get vaccinations against the Coronavirus, saying that some agencies are not providing such time despite a general policy that paid leave is to be granted for absences considered directly related to an agency’s mission.
The letter comes as availability of the vaccine continues to vary across the federal workforce. DoD, VA and several other agencies have received direct allocations and are administering the vaccine to their own employees in high-priority categories such as direct health care providers; the VA for example says it has given both doses of the two-shot regimen required under both of the approved vaccines to nearly 200,000 of its employees and that another nearly 50,000 have received a first dose.
In contrast, employees of other agencies generally have had to go through state-based distribution systems which have similar priority systems but in which availability has been inconsistent and there have been widespread difficulties in obtaining appointments.
“Given the Centers for Disease Control’s guidance that the approved COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at preventing death and infection as well as the societal need for as many vaccinated individuals as possible in order to eliminate the virus, it is imperative that the federal government take every possible step to encourage federal employees to receive the vaccine, including providing them with the administrative time to do so,” a group from the Washington, D.C. suburbs wrote to OPM.
“The health and safety of federal employees is absolutely paramount to the mission of every federal agency. Our federal employees have been challenged throughout this pandemic by adjusting their jobs to work under these strenuous circumstances. Ensuring an environment for employees to easily vaccinate is the fastest way for federal agencies to be able to function at their most productive level,” they added, asking for a response by February 19.
In addition to leave for the vaccination itself, they recommended allowing sick leave for those who experience side effects, which occur with the two approved vaccines, although only rarely.
Administrative leave, also called excused absence, is a catchall authority for time off from work with pay that commonly is granted for agency-sponsored blood drives, health fairs and certain other agency-related events.