The Biden administration has started releasing further details of its vaccination mandate for federal employees but the history of pandemic-related policies for the federal workplace suggests that a more complete picture of the policy and its implications likely won’t emerge for some time.
The Safer Federal Workplace Task Force on Monday added some specifics to a policy that otherwise exists only in the form of a brief executive order backed by statements from Biden and his chief spokeswoman, Jen Psaki.
While the order did not set a deadline for employees who are not already fully vaccinated to become so, the newly posted guidance does: November 22. “Agencies must work expeditiously so that their employees are fully vaccinated as quickly as possible and by no later” than that date, it says.
However, it does not explicitly say that agencies are to begin offering vaccination widely onsite—a widespread practice at the VA and DoD but less so elsewhere. It does, though, state that if employees are vaccinated during working hours, the time required (up to four hours) is to be considered official duty time.
Given the month-long waiting period between the two doses of the two-shot regimens of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, and the two-week waiting period before being considered fully vaccinated afterward, employees receiving those vaccines would have to receive the first dose by early October. They could wait until early November for one-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine, which also has a waiting period afterward.
Unlike prior administration policies—including on drafting “reentry” to the workplace plans and the attestation policy—the executive order notably did not make a reference to a requirement for agencies to fulfill any bargaining obligations. A question and answer posting accompanying the new guidance says there “may be collective bargaining obligations over the impact and implementation” of the mandate. However, it stresses that the policy “is essential to protect the health and safety of all federal employees” and is a government-wide under the authority of an executive order.
Agencies are “strongly encouraged to begin communicating with the appropriate union representatives as soon as possible” to fulfill any bargaining obligations “including on a post-implementation basis where appropriate,” it says.
The new guidance also addresses the status of the “attestation” policy announced in late July, requiring that employees either attest that they are fully vaccinated or be subject to stricter safety protocols and testing at least weekly when working onsite. It states that agencies “are no longer required to establish a screening testing programs for employees or onsite contractor employees who are not fully vaccinated, although they may do so.”
It suggests that agencies may have to keep those programs, which were just getting under way at many agencies, to use on onsite contractor employees who “may not yet be subject to a contractual requirement.”
The task force similarly had been left to fill in the details of the attestation policy, which resulted in a series of question and answer postings over more than a month. The latest announcement says that more guidance “is forthcoming and will be released soon.”