With now less than a month before agencies will be free to take disciplinary actions more serious than counseling against federal employees not in compliance with the Coronavirus vaccination mandate, the White House has said that compliance stands at 97.2 percent, up from the 96.5 percent in the prior accounting two weeks earlier.
Most of the rise is related to an increase from 92 to 92.5 percent in those who have received at least one vaccine dose; the difference between those numbers and the totals represents employees who have requested exceptions for religious or medical reasons. Of the 24 departments and largest independent agencies in the data, eight are now above 99 percent compliance and all are above at least 95 percent, the figures show.
Starting with the earlier data release, the administration has deemed those with only one dose to be in compliance, even though its original policy required being “fully vaccinated”—two weeks past the single or second shot, depending on which vaccine the employee received—by November 22. Those who have a pending exception request also are termed in the data reports as being in compliance.
The original policy further had told agencies that they could begin the disciplinary process that could lead to firing within a matter of weeks for employees not meeting that standard as early as November 9 (while holding off for employees with pending requests for exceptions). However, the administration later told agencies to only counsel employees through the end of the year, leaving potential unpaid suspension and firing to after the holidays.
The latest announcement repeats that policy while adding this: “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, but in general, consistency across government in further enforcement of the vaccine requirement after the start of the new calendar year is desired.”
Consistency in enforcement is likely to be one of the major issues in what many expect to be a large number of appeals of employees who suffer firing or other serious disciplinary actions for non-compliance without an exception. That is one of the standards the MSPB uses in weighing the reasonableness of a penalty against an employee.
Compared with the earlier accounting, the percentage of employees who had received at least one dose increased the most at agencies including SSA (up 2.6 percentage points), Interior (1.9), Education (1.6) and Agriculture, NASA and NRC (1.5 each).
Agriculture still has the lowest vaccination rate, though, at 88.1 percent, with VA at 88.5 percent and DHS at 89.5—the only three with vaccination rates below 90 percent. The VA meanwhile has highest rate of requests for exceptions, 10.2 percent.
While just under 3 percent of federal employees overall have not either requested an exception or at least started a course of vaccination, those rates also vary by agency, from 4.4 at EPA to just 0.1 at Education.
One anomaly is that the Defense Department’s figures—showing 93.8 percent with vaccinations and 96.5 percent total in compliance—include military personnel as well as its civilian employees. Other data show that vaccination rates are higher among military personnel, meaning that rates among DoD civilian employees—whom the military outnumbers about two to one—would be lower than those numbers.
There still is no accounting of the outcome of exception requests, although anecdotally some agencies have denied at least some, asking for additional information particularly regarding religious views related to the vaccine. Employees with pending requests are subject to stricter safety rules and testing when in the workplace, policies that also will continue if their requests are granted. Those whose requests are denied would have two weeks to begin a course of vaccination or else be subject to the disciplinary process.