Fedweek

Agencies must comply with local policies that are more restrictive than those under the order, including mask-wearing requirements for indoor facilities. Image: ako photography/Shutterstock.com

The Safer Federal Workforce Task Force has told agencies both that they have the authority to create exceptions to its general guidance on covid safety protocols, but that that circumstances also may require that they impose stricter requirements.

The latest guidance is the only substantial policy statement from that group in more than two months, save for a recent update to the vaccination certification form. The task force previously had kept up a steady stream of interpretations of an executive order setting standard safety protocols that was among the Biden administration’s first actions in January 2021.

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The newest guidance does not address the status of the executive order issued later last year generally requiring federal employees to be vaccinated against the Coronavirus or face discipline, an order that has been suspended since early this year by a court order and that remains in legal limbo despite a higher court decision to overturn that order (see related story).

However, it appears to clear the way for agencies to be less restrictive by emphasizing for the first time in such guidance that under the first order, agencies “may make categorical or case-by-case exceptions to the extent that doing so is necessary or required by law” or if they “have implementation challenges or operational circumstances.”

It adds, though, that agencies “must follow the setting-specific CDC guidance” where it is stricter than the order’s general policies, “where different or additional layers of prevention are recommended” such as “transportation settings, schools, health care settings, congregate settings, and correctional facilities.”

Similarly, agencies must comply with local policies that are more restrictive than those under the order. “For example, if a locality has imposed mask-wearing requirements for indoor facilities, agencies would need to apply those requirements in federal facilities, even if not otherwise required under agency mask-wearing protocols,” it says.

Other portions of the new guidance address issues including leave policies when employees are in isolation because have covid symptoms and are waiting for a test result or because they have a probable or confirmed infection; mask-wearing requirements when on government transportation; and testing and other considerations related to official travel.

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2022 Federal Employees Handbook