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White House delays federal employee vaccine enforcement until new year

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Federal employees who have not received a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and are not awaiting a decision on a requested exemption from the White House mandate will not face the loss of their jobs until after the holiday season, according to an email sent Monday to President’s Management Council members.

The email, written by the Office of Management and Budget’s deputy director for management, Jason Miller, and the Office of Personnel Management’s director, Kiran Ahuja, celebrated the fact that 92 percent of the federal workforce is vaccinated and more than 95 percent are compliant with the mandate. President Joe Biden originally signed an executive order in September requiring all feds and government contractors to be vaccinated, though the timeline and details have shifted on several occasions.

“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, beyond that education and counseling and, if warranted, a letter of reprimand, for most employees who have not yet complied with the vaccination requirement until the new calendar year begins in January,” Ahuja and Miller wrote.

“We understand that your agencies may need to act on enforcement sooner for a limited number of employees, such as where there are additional or compounding performance or workplace safety issues under consideration, but in general, consistency across government in further enforcement of the vaccine requirement after the start of the new calendar year is desired,” they added.

Agencies were previously instructed to pursue a progressive discipline approach to employees that refused to comply with the mandate, which included five days of counseling, a 14-day suspension and then removing that employee from federal service.

That procedure would have resulted in many noncompliant feds facing termination procedures in the midst of the holiday season.

“The administration has done the right thing by listening to federal workers, taking their concerns seriously, and modifying the vaccine mandate policy to give those who haven’t yet gotten vaccinated some peace of mind this holiday season,” Everett Kelley, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said in a statement. “AFGE previously asked the administration to harmonize the vaccine deadlines for federal workers and contractors. This announcement, in effect, responds to that request. Once again, President Biden has demonstrated his commitment to hearing from rank-and-file federal employees through their unions and responding to workers’ concerns.”

Despite consistently high compliance rates, the total 3.5 million employees covered by the federal mandate means more than 100,000 federal employees are currently out of compliance, and their removal could have significant operational impacts on certain agencies.

The White House continued to stress that agencies should work to educate workers, rather than punish them, and the extended enforcement deadline gives agencies a few extra weeks to convince noncompliant employees before more punitive actions are taken.

Jessie Bur covers the federal workforce and the changes most likely to impact government employees.

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