The Biden administration said this week that federal agencies generally shouldn’t force their employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine as a precondition for working in person.
“The Administration strongly encourages all Americans, including Federal employees and contractors, to be vaccinated,” the Safer Federal Workforce task force said in a new posting. “Employees should receive paid time off to be vaccinated and to deal with any side effects. At present, COVID-19 vaccination should generally not be a pre-condition for employees or contractors at executive departments and agencies (agencies) to work in-person in Federal buildings, on Federal lands, and in other settings as required by their job duties.
While workers and contractors may share information about whether they’ve received a vaccine, agencies “should not require federal employees or contractors to disclose such information.”
The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.
Of the 2.1 million federal employees, more than half worked from home during the pandemic, according to a 2020 survey (pdf) released in April. The 59 percent who were teleworking was a jump from just 3 percent before the pandemic.
But as the pandemic subsides, more employees are returning to workplaces, underlining the importance of guidance on vaccination.
The new guidance came after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said companies wouldn’t run afoul of federal laws if they decided to mandate vaccinations for workers, provided they carve out exceptions for medical or religious reasons.
Federal employment “laws do not prevent an employer from requiring all employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19, so long as employers comply with the reasonable accommodation provisions” of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Civil Rights Act, the commission said.
However, state and local laws could apply, it added.
Some private businesses have begun requiring workers to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Houston Methodist, a hospital system in Texas, this week suspended nearly 200 workers who refused to comply with the mandate and didn’t claim or were unsuccessful in claiming a medical or religious exemption.
Marc Boom, CEO of the system, said the workers “have decided not to put their patients first.” They face termination if they continue to decline to get a jab.
Matthew Staver, chairman of Liberty Counsel, a Christian organization that represents a variety of clients, told The Epoch Times that federal law does appear to bar entities from requiring workers to get vaccinated, because the vaccines currently being administered in the United States are authorized for emergency use, not approved.
“Federal law specifically says that no one can be coerced or forced to get one of these EUA-authorized drugs,” he said.
“It would be a different conversation if they’re fully approved. That, however, is focused only on the federal law, that doesn’t take into consideration the independent state law that provides additional rights for employees.”
The Biden administration’s task force previously reacted to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s update to its masking guidance by saying federal employees and contractors who are fully vaccinated can ditch masks and stop social distancing when working onsite. Fully vaccinated refers to a person who has at least two or more weeks prior received a Johnson & Johnson vaccine or the second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer shot.
The CDC says people who aren’t fully vaccinated should keep wearing a mask and social distancing while indoors or in crowded outdoor settings, and 25 percent occupancy limits are still in place in all federal buildings. Some Republican lawmakers have called on the administration to move back to onsite work, noting that more Americans are being vaccinated each day while COVID-19 metrics such as cases and hospitalizations have dropped sharply.
“It is time to begin transitioning to the workplace,” Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) wrote in a recent letter to Kathleen McGettigan, acting director of the Office of Personnel Management. “If it is the administration’s intention to prolong remote working arrangements, then it is appropriate to hold a comprehensive policy discussion around related issues.”