Fedweek

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Restoring the Coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal employees would restart processes that have been in abeyance for three months, including disciplinary actions for employees who are not vaccinated and haven’t received an exception on religious or medical grounds (or who have made such a request and haven’t received a decision).

The injunction issued in late January by a federal district court not only stopped that process but also prevented agencies from making decisions on requests for exceptions — although they still could receive them from employees. However, last week the federal appeals court for the Fifth Circuit ordered that the injunction be lifted—although the timing remains uncertain.

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There were no reports of employees having been fired for not complying with the mandate during the several weeks between when agencies were cleared to take such actions at the start of the year and the lower court’s ruling.

However, in some cases agencies had started a disciplinary sequence with letters of counseling or warnings. Restarting those sequences likely would lead next to suspensions and then to proposed removal—a process that could finish within several months.

There also has been no accounting of agency decisions on requests for exceptions, although before the injunction was issued some were being processed, since there were reports of employees being asked for further information. With some 4 percent of employees having made such requests, agencies would face a large and potentially lengthy task in sorting through them, since that would come to around 100,000.

Under administration policy, those employees are considered “compliant,” as are the roughly 93 percent who were vaccinated as of the last accounting, in December. Those with pending or approved requests for exceptions allowing them to remain unvaccinated however would be subject to tighter safety protocols while onsite.

The return of enforcement also would mean that the remainder would have to decide whether to get vaccinated, file for an exception, face the disciplinary process, resign, or retire if eligible. There were some reports of resignations and retirements occurring before the injunction was issued.

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