Fedweek

Notably absent from the latest OPM guidance on remote work and telework is any mention of using those arrangements as accommodations for employees who refuse to comply with the Coronavirus vaccine mandate and who don’t qualify for exceptions.

Many employees who may fit that category have been focused on the prospects of being assigned to work mostly or fully offsite as an accommodation, as the deadline for getting vaccine doses under that policy has passed and requests for exceptions on religious or medical grounds are being considered.

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There still is no accounting of how many employees did not complete a course of vaccination in time to be “fully vaccinated”—two weeks past the second, or single dose–by the November 22. There also is no accounting of how many have filed requests for exceptions or the outcomes of those requests.

Meanwhile, there have now been at least two decisions by federal courts rejecting requests to block the mandates on grounds that such action would be premature while requests are pending. That could change once agencies move to fire non-compliant employees, although both rulings also have cited legal precedent upholding mandatory vaccinations as a matter of the public health and safety.

Previous guidance from the administration has said that the accommodation for unvaccinated employees who do qualify for exceptions would come in the form of continuing their regular work arrangements and being subject to stricter safety protocols and testing when working onsite. Those who do not qualify are to be subject to a progressive disciplinary process that already has started in some cases with counseling, then potentially an unpaid suspension and eventual firing.

The latest guidance mentions that agencies can take disabilities into consideration when deciding whether an employee is eligible for telework or remote work, but only in the context of “where, for example, commuting every day is demonstrated to be aggravating to the person’s disability and the job, or parts of the job, can be performed from an alternative worksite without causing significant difficulty or expense.”

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