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Agencies Must Establish COVID-19 Testing Programs for Certain Unvaccinated Feds and Contractors By Feb. 15

Task force issues new guidance on coronavirus testing for those who report to federal facilities or otherwise interact with the public.

The Biden administration on Tuesday published new guidance to help federal agencies set up testing programs to screen unvaccinated federal workers and some contractors for COVID-19, setting a deadline of Feb. 15 for implementation.

In an update from the White House Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, the administration said agencies must test unvaccinated workers who report to a federal facility or otherwise interact with members of the public on a weekly basis.

The testing program should apply to federal employees who have either a pending or approved request for an exception from President Biden’s requirement that the federal workforce be vaccinated against COVID-19 or an extension to the deadline to be vaccinated. Employees who are noncompliant with the vaccine mandate also must be subjected to weekly testing if they work at a federal facility or interact with the public.

The taskforce wrote that generally speaking, agencies need not apply the same testing program to federal contractors who are on-site but noted that there could be some exceptions—both to who gets tested and how often—based on agency requirements.

 “For certain roles, functions or work environments, an agency may determine that it is necessary that certain onsite contractor employees, certain employees regardless of their vaccination status, or certain employees and certain onsite contractor employees regardless of their vaccination status must participate in screening testing, given operational or administrative considerations associated with conducting screening testing for those roles, functions or work environments,” the task force wrote.  “Agencies may require more frequent testing, such as for certain roles, functions or work environments.”

Unvaccinated employees who are working remotely or via maximum telework will not be required to undergo regular testing, although they should be tested in advance if they need to report to an agency facility, the guidance said.

Testing under the screening program may occur either at a federal facility or elsewhere, subject to the discretion of the agency, but participants in the testing program may not administer or read the results of COVID tests themselves, unless they are supervised by the agency or “an authorized telehealth provider.” Feds and contractors will not need to be able to provide the results of a negative COVID test each time they enter their agency’s facilities, unless the agency specifically requires it, but they will need to do so if they are visiting another agency’s facility.

Agencies may use any Food and Drug Administration-approved COVID-19 tests, including both rapid antigen and PCR tests, and may elect to authorize off-site testing locations such as in-store or drive-through testing, self-swab tests that participants can drop off for collection or ship to a laboratory, or over-the-counter test kits, provided that employees do not self-report the results without agency supervision. Agencies are required to pay for the cost of testing employees in the screening program, either by paying directly for testing or by reimbursing employees, and the time spent getting tested should be treated as duty time—not administrative leave—for payroll purposes.

“Agencies should establish a means of verifying the date and result of a test—the test should not be both self-administered and self-read by the employee unless observed by the agency or an authorized onsite or telehealth provider,” the taskforce wrote. “If the results are provided to the federal employee or contractor employee who was tested, the agency should establish a means for the federal employee or contractor employee to provide those results to the appropriate agency staff for verification that required testing has been completed and the employee has tested negative.”

If a participant in the testing program refuses to submit to a COVID-19 test, the agency may pursue disciplinary action and bar the employee from the workplace.

“If the agency bars the employee from the workplace, and the nature of the employee’s work does not allow for it to be performed outside the workplace, the employee must be placed on paid administrative leave until the question of disciplinary action is resolved,” the administration said. “In pursuing an adverse action, the agency must also follow normal processes to provide the required notice to the employee.”