The Biden Administration Implements More Distinctions in Fed Workforce COVID Policies Based on Vaccination Status
Unvaccinated feds will face more limitations in travel, but may receive more paid administrative leave.
The Biden administration has updated its COVID-19 protocols to draw more distinctions between the policies for vaccinated and unvaccinated workers, including those related to travel and paid leave.
In previous iterations of guidance from the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force—composed of officials from the White House, Office of Personnel Management and General Services Administration—federal employees who came in close contact with individuals with COVID-19 could not go on official travel for 10 days. Under the new policy, vaccinated employees can go on mission-critical trips immediately. Unvaccinated staff must wait at least five days after their contact, and can only travel within 10 days in “rare circumstances” that require urgency.
The task force is also instructing agencies to provide a form of paid administrative time off known as “weather and safety leave” to unvaccinated workers who must isolate after a close contact with an individual with COVID-19. Those employees should telework if they can, but will receive paid time off if that is not an option. Vaccinated workers should self-monitor for symptoms, but can go back to the office immediately.
To prevent potential abuse of the system among unvaccinated employees, the task force instructed agencies to “advise employees that making a false statement to the agency regarding this matter could result in disciplinary action, up to and including removal from federal service.” It also noted agencies may ask employees for additional information to prove they had a close contact.
Unvaccinated staff who return from international travel must quarantine for five days and will receive weather and safety leave if they cannot telework. Vaccinated employees, meanwhile, can now go back to their office immediately to engage in mission-critical work.
In guidance issued in January after a federal court initially struck down President Biden’s vaccine mandate for feds, the task force made clear agencies should still collect and use information on employees’ vaccination status for the purposes of implementing safety protocols related to leave, quarantine, travel and other issues. While an appeals court has reversed that ruling, the injunction—and the task force’s subsequent guidance—remains in effect as the plaintiffs pursue further appeals.
While the federal workforce has overwhelmingly come into compliance with Biden’s order, tens of thousands of employees have done so by requesting medical or religious exemptions. Those individuals—as well as those refusing to get the vaccine, while the legal process unfolds—will be subject to the added layers of the task force’s safety protocols. Under the guidance, those who have not informed their agencies of their vaccination status are considered unvaccinated. Biden’s mandate could also come back into effect as soon as this week.
All employees whether vaccinated or not are generally required to take a test five days after a close contact with someone with COVID-19. The task force updated its guidance to clarify that vaccinated employees who are not scheduled to report to their worksite or interact with the public for 10 days do not have to take a test.
A group representing thousands of employees, Feds for Medical Freedom, held a virtual meeting last week instructing members on strategies for getting out of testing requirements, such as by leaning on the limitations of the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorizations for tests. Feds for Medical Freedom has sued the Biden administration over its vaccine mandate for federal employees and is currently appealing a ruling against its position.