Fedweek

The White House has told agencies not to fire or suspend federal employees who are not in compliance with the Coronavirus vaccination mandate until at least after the turn of the year. Meanwhile, the administration has issued new guidance giving agencies more discretion on the disciplinary sequence for employees who are unvaccinated and don’t have a request for an exception either pending or approved.

A message to agencies from OPM and OMB — that was released by federal unions, which praised it — cited last week’s announcement that as of the November 22 deadline, 92 percent of federal employees and uniformed military personnel have received at least one vaccine dose and another 4.5 percent have a pending request for an exception on religious or medical grounds.

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“We have been clear that the goal of the federal employee vaccination requirement is to protect federal workers, not to punish them. Last week’s deadline was not an endpoint or a cliff. We are continuing to see more and more federal employees getting their shots,” it says.

“Given that tremendous progress, we encourage your agencies to continue with robust education and counseling efforts through this holiday season as the first step in an enforcement process, with no subsequent enforcement actions . . . until the new calendar year begins in January,” it says.

It adds that agencies “may need to act on enforcement sooner for a limited number of employees, such as where there are additional or compounding performance or workplace safety issues under consideration . . . Agencies should also continue to work expeditiously to process employee requests for accommodations related to legally required exceptions or for extensions due to documented medical circumstances that necessitate delay of vaccination.”

Separate new guidance came from the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force on disciplinary steps for unvaccinated employees who don’t have an outstanding request for an exception.

It repeats the prior recommendation that after the recommended week of counseling on vaccines and the mandate, agencies should order a suspension of 14 days or less but adds that the suspension may be accompanied by a reprimand.

And while the earlier version had said only that “unique operational needs of agencies and the circumstances affecting a particular employee may warrant departure from these guidelines if necessary,” the latest version says this:

“Operational needs of agencies and the circumstances affecting a particular employee may warrant departure from these guidelines if necessary, including whether to expedite or extend the enforcement process. For example, agencies may consider the length of the education and counseling period or following an initial brief suspension (14 days or less) with a longer second suspension (15 days or more), rather than moving from a first suspension to proposal of removal.”

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The latest revision repeats prior statements that consistency across government in enforcement is desired and that the order does not permit exceptions except as required by law for medical or religious reasons.

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