The Biden Administration announced this week that agencies should not enforce penalties for Federal employees who remain unvaccinated against COVID-19 until after the holiday season.

Federal employees faced a Nov. 22 deadline to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. As of Monday, the Biden administration confirmed 96.5 percent of the Federal workforce has complied with that requirement – meaning those employees have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccination or have a pending or approved exception or extension request.

In a Nov. 29 email obtained by MeriTalk, Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Deputy Director for Management Jason Miller and Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Director Kiran Ahuja encouraged agencies to wait until January to enforce punishments for unvaccinated employees, such as suspensions or removals.

“We have been clear that the goal of the Federal employee vaccination requirement is to protect Federal workers, not to punish them. Last week’s deadline was not an endpoint or a cliff. We are continuing to see more and more Federal employees getting their shots,” they wrote.

“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,” the email says.

Ahuja and Miller said they understand some agencies may need to act sooner to enforce vaccine mandate punishments “such as where there are additional or compounding performance or workplace safety issues under consideration.” However, in general, the two want consistency across the Federal government in further enforcement of the vaccine mandate.

In guidance updated Monday, the White House’s Safer Federal Workforce Task Force emphasized that the operational needs of agencies warrant them to “expedite or extend the enforcement process.”

The push to January is welcome news for the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) – the largest union for Federal employees – who pushed for Federal workers to have the holiday season to comply with vaccine mandate, in line with Federal contractors’ Jan. 4 deadline.

“The administration has done the right thing by listening to Federal workers, taking their concerns seriously, and giving those who haven’t yet gotten vaccinated some peace of mind this holiday season,” AFGE National President Everett Kelley said in a statement.

“Once again, President Biden has demonstrated his commitment to hearing from rank-and-file Federal employees through their unions and responding to workers’ concerns,” Kelley said. “While we applaud the policy that defers suspensions and removals, we continue to encourage all our members who are able to obtain one of the FDA-approved anti-COVID vaccines as soon as they possibly can.”

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.
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