Fedweek

A period of waiting is continuing on two major federal workplace issues on which action was expected around now—enforcement of the Coronavirus vaccine mandate and the “reentry” from telework to regular worksites by more employees and for more often.

The administration in late November had delayed serious disciplinary actions for non-compliance with the mandate until after the turn of the year; during that time, they were to continue to counsel employees about it and the potential consequences of non-compliance, as well as to consider employee requests for exceptions for medical or religious reasons. However, there has been little word since then regarding the outcome of those requests or regarding serious disciplinary actions against other unvaccinated employees.

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That mandate has been challenged in court—with apparently no rulings so far in favor of the employees—and further challenges are expected. Employees who are denied exceptions may appeal through the EEO process and those who are fired or suffer other serious disciplinary actions for non-compliance may appeal through the MSPB process (or through a union grievance process, if one covers them).

However, most of the attention in the courts has involved challenges to separate mandates, especially one ordering private sector companies with 100 or more employees to either require vaccination or frequent testing of their employees. Those cases would not directly impact the federal employee mandate.

The private sector mandate, which was the subject of a U.S. Supreme Court hearing late last week, would apply to the Postal Service since it is a semi-corporate entity. The USPS meanwhile has asked for a delay on grounds that it could further disrupt supply chains already damaged by the pandemic.

Meanwhile, with infections still spiking due to the omicron variant of the virus, widespread uncertainty also remains regarding reentry plans. Many of those plans had called for first bringing more managerial employees to regular duty stations starting early this month, with phased-in increases over following months.

Several agencies have publicly announced delays, most recently the EEOC whose plan had drawn unfair labor practice complaints from the AFGE union. And the DoD for the second time in a matter of weeks stepped back from potential reentry at the Pentagon and related headquarters buildings—where many thousands of civilian federal employees work—this time reducing the standard limit on office occupancy from 40 to 25 percent of capacity.

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