Fedweek

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The impact of the Coronavirus vaccine mandate in terms of turnover in the federal workforce—either voluntary or not—remains largely anecdotal, although the largest agency, DoD has said there have been “no terminations yet.”

“We are still finalizing the guidance to the civilian force in that regard,” a Pentagon spokesman said late last week in a comment that seems to characterize the state of affairs in general.

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Under Biden administration policy, as of the start of this month agencies could begin imposing unpaid suspensions and then moving to fire employees who are deemed non-compliant with the mandate—that is, they are not vaccinated and do not have an approved or pending request for an exception on medical or religious grounds. The DoD has reported approving a small number of exceptions for military personnel and disciplinary actions against some others not vaccinated but it has not produced similar data on its civilian workforce, the government’s largest.

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Nor has the White House produced such data on the federal workforce as a whole. There has been no update on vaccination status since early-December numbers showing about 92 percent having received at least one dose, about 5 percent having requested an exception—which the White House terms a 97 percent compliance rate—and the remainder falling into neither category.

No deadline has been set for deciding on exception requests or disciplinary actions against the non-compliant. However, some have interpreted the recently-set requirement for agencies to begin regular testing by February 15 of unvaccinated employees with approved or pending requests as indicating more definite actions by then.

Some clarity emerged late last week regarding one agency, the Postal Service, when the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a mandate for private sector employers with at least 100 workers to either require vaccination or regular testing of their employees. The USPS would have been covered by that directive because of its quasi-corporate status; it earlier asked for a temporary exception, which now is no longer needed.

However, that ruling—and a companion ruling upholding a similar mandate for health care personnel and suppliers participating in the Medicare and Medicaid programs—does not directly affect the federal employee mandate because different legal authorities are involved. That also is the case with yet another mandate, regarding government contractors, which lower courts have blocked in some states.

Another issue that remains unresolved is the potential for federal employees to quit or retire—with possible implications for agency operations—due to opposition to the mandate itself or in the face of potential firing for non-compliance. However, OPM-reported data on resignations government-wide are months behind; the latest are through June, two months before the mandate was issued and show a normal pattern.

OPM separately reports on retirement applications monthly but those figures also reflect a lag time since applications go through a process first within the employing agency. The most recent data show OPM receiving about 7,600 retirement applications in December, about 2,500 more than in December 2020.

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Those numbers, which include Postal Service retirees, typically are exceptionally high each December and January due to the annual spike in federal retirements around the turn of the year.

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