Fedweek

With the last deadline under the Coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal employees now passed, the focus has turned what happens next—primarily, the potential for employees to be granted exceptions for medical or religious reasons, and for disciplinary action against unvaccinated employees who either are denied those requests or never filed them.

The Tuesday (November 22) deadline represented the date by which employees had to be able to show to their agencies that they were fully vaccinated; given the two-week wait required after receiving the second or only dose, the effective date actually had been November 8.

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Under administration policy, agencies were allowed to begin as soon as that date a progressive disciplinary process beginning with a five-day counseling period, then an unpaid suspension of less than 14 days (making it not appealable) and then move to discipline up to and including firing. It is uncertain how widely that has been done, although several agencies have said they have started the counseling phase in at least some cases.

With the Thanksgiving holiday this week and many employees taking vacation on additional days, there has been a general expectation that in many cases that process won’t start until next week if not later.

Further, the process is not to begin while employees have pending requests for exceptions; during that time they are to work on regular schedules but subject to stricter safety protocols and regular testing. Employees who are granted exceptions are to continue in that status moving forward; those whose requests are denied are to be given two weeks to start a course of vaccination before discipline would start.

Preliminary figures from the administration indicate that 95 percent of employees are, or are on track to become, fully vaccinated or have requested exceptions. The latter category accounts for about 5 percent of the total, mostly on religious rather than medical grounds.

How long agencies will take to make decisions on those requests is uncertain but a number on that scale suggests a long process.

There also have been reports of employees opposed to vaccinations already resigning or retiring, or stating their intention to do so if their requests for exceptions are denied. It’s also expected that many who are denied requests will file legal challenges. Court decisions in broader challenges against the mandate so far have gone in favor of it, however.

A preliminary court decision against a separate mandate for larger private sector companies—including the Postal Service—has caused the administration to suspend implementation of that mandate. The legal issues differ, however, and that does not affect the mandate for other federal employees.

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