Federal government agencies have been told by the Biden administration to delay disciplining workers who aren’t vaccinated for COVID-19 until 2022. Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images
The Biden administration has told government agencies that they can hold off on disciplining workers who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19 until after the holidays, saying the mandate was intended to “protect federal workers, not to punish them.”
The White House originally set a Nov. 22 deadline for federal workers to be fully vaccinated or face suspension or dismissal unless they were granted a religious or medical exemption.
But the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of Management and Budget said on Monday that noncompliant workers should not be penalized until January in order to allow officials more time to convince holdouts to get inoculated against the coronavirus.
The move was first reported by the website Government Executive.
“We have been clear that the goal of the federal employee vaccination requirement is to protect federal workers, not to punish them,” the directors of the two agencies wrote in an email, according to the outlet.
“Last week’s deadline was not an endpoint or a cliff. We are continuing to see more and more federal employees getting their shots. Given that tremendous progress, we encourage your agencies to continue with robust education and counseling efforts through this holiday season as the first step in an enforcement process, with no subsequent enforcement actions.”
Federal workers were originally supposed to face suspension starting on Nov. 22 if they aren’t vaccinated.
Photo by Michael Nagle/Xinhua via Getty Images
The agency heads added that “consistency” in enforcing the mandate at the beginning of the next year “is desired.”
“We believe this approach is the best one to achieving our goal of getting the federal workforce vaccinated,” they wrote.
The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents nearly 700,000 federal workers, hailed the announcement putting off enforcement of the mandate.
“The administration has done the right thing by listening to federal workers, taking their concerns seriously, and giving those who haven’t yet gotten vaccinated some peace of mind this holiday season,” union President Everett Kelley said in a statement.
“Once again, President Biden has demonstrated his commitment to hearing from rank-and-file federal employees through their unions and responding to workers’ concerns,” Kelley added before encouraging all union members to get the vaccine “as soon as they possibly can.”
According to White House press secretary Jen Psaki, the deadline to be vaccinated was not pushed back.
Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images
White House press secretary Jen Psaki denied Monday that the email from the leaders of OMB and OPM meant the deadline for government workers to be vaccinated had been pushed back.
“Nothing has changed on our deadline or our approach to the federal employee vaccine requirement,” she told reporters. “The deadline was last week, on Nov. 22. And we already have 96.5 percent compliance across a diverse workforce that is the largest in the United States.
“I can’t assess exactly what led to any confusion, but OMB put out a public statement this morning, conveying that counseling, of course, would be the first step,” she added. “That’s long been our approach and our policy from the United States government. But it’s inaccurate to suggest or any reporting that we have delayed anything or changed that the deadline has already passed.”
Data released by the White House last week indicated that 92 percent of roughly 3.5 million civilian and military government employees got at least one shot by the Nov. 22 deadline, while another 4.5 percent requested exemptions or more time to comply with the mandate. The remaining 3.5 percent — approximately 122,500 people — flouted the vaccine requirement without requesting any exception or permission.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration earlier this month suspended enforcement of the administration’s rule mandating that companies with 100 or more employees require workers to be vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID-19 testing by Jan. 4.
The delay came after a federal appeals court in Louisiana halted the mandate implementation, saying it had “grave statutory and constitutional” concerns about the order.
The Justice Department asked the court last week to lift the stay because of the “grievous harms” the pandemic has caused public health.Internet Explorer Channel Network