President Joe Biden’s administration said this week that federal agencies should not in general force workers 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. 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,” the Safer Federal Workforce task force said in a new posting.
While workers and contractors may share information about whether or not they’ve received a vaccine, agencies “should not require federal employees or contractors to disclose such information,” the task force added.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Over half of the approximately 2.1 million federal employees were working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a 2020 survey (pdf) that was released in April. The 59 percent teleworking was a jump from just 3 percent before the pandemic.
But as the pandemic subsides, more and more employees are returning to work, underlining the importance of the vaccination guidance.
The guidance came after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said companies would not 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 did not 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 group 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,” he added.
In April, the Defense Department said in a memo (pdf) that supervisors may not generally ask employees if they have received a COVID-19 shot.
COVID-19 is the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.
The Biden administration’s task force previously reacted to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updating 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 jab.
People who are not fully vaccinated need to keep wearing a mask and social distancing, and 25 percent occupancy limits are still in place for all federal buildings. Some Republicans have called on the administration to move back to onsite work, noting that more Americans are being vaccinated each day while COVID-19 metrics like 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.”