David Zalubowski / AP

White House: Some Feds With Valid Vaccine Exemption Requests Could Still Be Fired

Task force says that for some jobs where no other safety protocols are adequate, federal agencies may require all employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, without exception.

The Biden administration told federal agencies on Monday that although the president’s mandate that all federal employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 allows for some religious and medical exemptions, agencies may still fire employees with otherwise valid exemptions if the employees are in certain types of jobs where no other safety protocol would be sufficient. 

The news comes in updated guidance from the White House Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, which provides more detailed information about what qualifies as a valid medical exemption and safety requirements for employees who successfully obtain an exemption from the vaccine mandate.

The task force wrote that while in most cases, unvaccinated employees would need to wear masks, continue to maintain a physical distance from coworkers and submit to regular testing, agencies may require additional measures in certain cases.

“There may be circumstances in which an agency determines that the nature of an employee’s job responsibilities requires heightened safety protocols if they are provided with a legally required exception,” the guidance states. “In some cases, the nature of the employee’s job may be such that an agency determines that no safety protocol other than vaccination is adequate. In such circumstances, the agency may deny the requested accommodation.”

The task force recommended that agencies establish a soft deadline for employees to inform them that they are pursuing requests for a religious or medical exemption, so that officials may plan both to evaluate those requests as well as to understand their potential impact on agency operations. The guidance also provided agencies with template forms that employees can fill out to request an exemption.

In some cases, agencies may provide a temporary exemption to the vaccine mandate, such as if an employee has received monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma to treat COVID-19 within the last 90 days.

“Agencies that receive documented medical reasons that may not qualify as a disability but that necessitate a delay in vaccination should grant extensions but specify, consistent with the nature of the medical necessity, by what date the employee must be fully vaccinated,” the task force wrote. “Agencies should take note that an individual’s medical need should be considered on a case-by-case basis, including any medical evaluation that addresses the individual’s particular circumstance.”

The task force also sought to drill down on what medical reasons may and may not qualify an employee for an exemption from the vaccine mandate. Among the conditions that could qualify an employee for an exemption or delay the requirement are a “severe” or “immediate” allergic reaction to a component of the vaccine, a recent diagnosis of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in adults, as well as active cases of myocarditis or pericarditis, including cases developed following a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

People who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant will not be eligible for an exemption, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends those individuals be vaccinated, although in some specific cases, a delay could be approved, the task force wrote. And the task force stressed that employees who have had a prior COVID-19 infection, as well as those who provide a recent antibody test, must still receive the vaccine to comply with the mandate.