Despite a federal judge declaring President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate unconstitutional, Penn State University will keep its Jan. 4 deadline requiring employees to be vaccinated, and some employees who choose not to get vaccinated will be given education and counseling.
“Many of you know [the mandate] is being challenged in the courts, so we don’t know the outcome of that process yet, but we are planning around it prevailing, and so implementing that mandate,” Penn State Provost Nicholas P. Jones said on Dec. 28 during the University Faculty Senate meeting. “We’ve got to prepare because there’s not a lot of runway between now and [Jan. 4].”
The university is navigating two versions of the mandate. The federal contractor mandate applies to nine campuses and the College of Medicine, Wyatt DuBois, assistant director of University Public Relations told The Epoch Times in an email.
Employees covered under the federal contractor mandate must provide proof to the university that they have received their final vaccine dose by Jan. 4 or be granted a disability or medical- or religious-related exemption. For those with an exemption, “accommodations will include a requirement to test weekly in the university testing protocol program,” DuBois wrote.
Employees at all other Penn State locations are subject to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) emergency temporary standard (ETS) on vaccination and testing, which applies to employers with 100 or more employees.
“Under the OSHA ETS, disability/medical- and/or religious-related accommodations are not required for an employee to be put into the testing protocol. So, employees at these locations must receive their final vaccine dose by Jan. 4 or test weekly for COVID-19,” DuBois wrote.
Those under the OSHA rules won’t lose their jobs if they don’t get vaccinated, but those under the federal contractor mandate who aren’t granted an exemption could lose their job.
Penn State issued updated details of its vaccine compliance process on Jan. 3, with slightly different consequences for noncompliance applied to different classes of employees.
Noncompliant faculty must meet with an executive within 48 hours “to discuss their intent to be fully compliant,” a Penn State spokesperson said.
“Further administrative actions will be discussed individually during the meeting, and will include expectations for progress toward compliance, potential for unpaid administrative leave, and other disciplinary steps up to, and potentially including, termination.”
Students on wage payroll who demonstrate no steps toward compliance by Jan. 4, such as partial vaccination or an in-progress accommodation request, will not be scheduled to work until further notice and will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis to determine appropriate next steps, including disciplinary actions.
Technical service employees will get a “five-workday period of education, including providing noncompliant employees with information regarding the benefits of vaccination and ways to obtain the vaccine.” After the period of education, technical service employees will have one calendar week “to demonstrate progress toward becoming fully vaccinated or they will be placed on a two-week unpaid suspension. Continued noncompliance following the suspension will result in termination of employment. Employees will be permitted to voluntarily resign, or if eligible, retire before facing involuntary termination of employment.”
Already, some members of Penn State’s recently formed employee group of medical freedom advocates, Lions for Liberty, have reported uncomfortable conversations with their supervisors about vaccination status and their intentions to comply.
“Regarding the five-day education period for some employees, it is intended as an additional defined period of time when the university can provide information related to COVID-19 vaccination to those employees who still have questions and concerns at that time,” DuBois wrote.
“The university has a host of information already available to its employees, which they are encouraged to review, and this five-day period of time offers an additional opportunity to provide employees with information and resources to learn more about vaccination. ‘Five days’ is not intended to mean that employees will be in an education session during that entire time, but rather that that is when additional education and information will be provided to these employees, if necessary.”
In a Nov. 22, 2021, White House press briefing, Jeffrey Zients, White House coronavirus response coordinator, indicated that some people may need more convincing, and education may be a path to more vaccination compliance.
“To be clear, the goal of vaccination requirements is to protect workers, not to punish them,” Zients said. “We continue to see more and more federal employees getting their shots. And for the small percentage of employees who have not yet complied, agencies are beginning the education and counseling process. Looking at the federal workforce vaccination data makes one thing obvious: Vaccination requirements work. They encourage more people to get vaccinated. Vaccination requirements are good for workers and the economy. They protect our communities and country, and they will accelerate our path out of the pandemic.”