Feds Driven Away By Biden’s Vaccine Mandate Could Return or Get Payouts, Under a New Bill
Few if any were ever fired, but the bill would also apply to those who left voluntarily after Biden demanded vaccination against COVID-19.
Federal employees who left government or were fired due to President Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate could be reinstated or reimbursed for time lost under a new bill from a House Republican.
Exceedingly few federal workers were ever actually terminated as a result of Biden's order, which went into effect in the fall of 2021 but has not been enforced for most of the time subsequent to that as it has wound its way through various court battles. Still, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., introduced the COVID-19 Federal Employee Reinstatement Act on Friday to make anyone who lost their job over the mandate eligible to get it back. The bill would apply not just to the few, if any, employees who were fired, but also to anyone who chose to leave their government job and affirms they did so because of the vaccine requirement.
“Forcing public servants to choose between destroying their livelihood or complying with immoral demands from the federal government is sickening,” said Gaetz, the firebrand conservative. “The Biden administration should have never forced federal employees to resign due to the vaccine mandate. Reinstating and compensating these individuals is the first step toward reconciliation.”
According to the most updated figures from the Biden administration, at least 98% of the federal workforce is in compliance with the mandate by either proving they received the vaccine or requesting a medical or religious exemption. The mandate was enjoined first in January 2022 and, after briefly being reinstated, again in June after the U.S. Appeals Court for the Fifth Circuit agreed to an en banc rehearing of a lawsuit challenging Biden’s authority to issue it. The court heard oral arguments in September but has yet to issue a final ruling on the case.
Gaetz’s bill would apply only to employees who “voluntarily or involuntarily” left government due to the mandate between Sept. 9, 2021, when Biden first issued his order, and Jan. 24, 2022, when it was first enjoined. Within 90 days of the bill’s passage, each agency would have to notify every employee who left the agency during that period to let them know of their potential reinstatement and reimbursement rights. Impacted workers could choose to either get reinstated to a position similar to the one that they left, with back pay, or receive the equivalent of their salary from Sept. 9, 2021 through six months after they received the notice from their agency. Employees who left their jobs and found new ones at a federal agency would still be eligible for a prorated payment.
Employees would choose to receive either a lump-sum payment or 12 installments spaced out over a year. Agencies would have the option to deem reinstatement “impracticable” and force a former employee to instead accept the larger payout option. Any impacted employee would be made whole for purposes of their pension annuity.
To qualify for reinstatement or payment, any impacted worker would have to submit a signed statement to their former agency and the Office of Personnel Management affirming they left the agency due to the vaccine mandate.
At the time of the January 2022 injunction, federal agencies had primarily only gotten to the “education and counseling” stage of the Biden administration’s prescribed progressive discipline process. In November 2021, the administration instructed agencies to delay any more severe punishments until after the new year. At the time of the injunction, agencies were just beginning to notify non-compliant employees of suspensions. Firings would only have taken place subsequent to those suspensions, if the federal court had not intervened.
As they sent letters to non-compliant staff warning them of pending punishments while the mandate was in effect, some agencies conducted town hall meetings and sent videos imploring workers to think of their families and colleagues in making a vaccination decision. Others encouraged employees to request an exemption, suggesting they would not ask questions of anyone who did so.
A select few agencies—such as components of the departments of Veterans Affairs and Health and Human Services—have continued enforcement of their own vaccine mandates, saying they were relying on separate authorities from Biden’s edict. As of December, just 11 VA employees were fired for “failure to follow safety protocols”—which includes refusing vaccination—while 78 were otherwise disciplined. Those employees would not be eligible for any payments or reinstatements under Gaetz’s bill, as their disciplinary actions occurred outside of the measure’s designated window.
Congress last year repealed the vaccine mandate for members of the military, but did not include any back pay or reinstatement provisions for those already impacted.