White House: “There is no cliff here” when it comes to vaccination deadlines
The White House says it “creates flexibility within the system” in terms of the vaccination mandate for federal authorities and contractors and how those who fail to comply will be disciplined. Still, Republican lawmakers say they have unanswered questions.
Federal authorities have been ordered by the Biden administration to get vaccinated by November 22. Federal contractors have a deadline of December 8. In both groups there will be limited religious and medical exemptions.
White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeffrey Zients told reporters in a briefing Wednesday that the requirements “will not disrupt” the economy or the supply chain.
He stressed that “we still have weeks to reach these deadlines”, going on to say that “it is important to remember that these deadlines are not cliffs”.
“Even once we meet these deadlines, we expect that federal agencies and contractors will follow their standard HR processes and that, for one of the likely relatively small percentages of employees who are not in compliance, they will get training, advice, adjustments and then execution, ”he said.
This process would unfold “over weeks, not days,” he said. “And so, to be clear, we are creating flexibility within the system. We are giving people multiple opportunities to get vaccinated. There is no cliff here. And the goal, I think, is most important. , is to vaccinate people and protect, not to punish them. So we do not expect disruption. “
Stephanie Rapp-Tully, a partner at Tully Rinckey specializing in federal labor law, told FCW she agrees the upcoming deadlines are “starting lines.”
“The referral process should follow the normal referral process, which in most cases includes notice of a proposed action, the time allotted for the employee to respond and a decision to be made and all of the items, such as the reasonableness of the sanction imposed, are considered and evaluated, ”she explained. “The length of the process will vary not only from agency to agency, but also across sub-agencies, divisions, departments, etc. All disciplinary actions are meant to be viewed in the specific context of that individual employee. “
The Safer Federal Workforce task force has recommended a process to discipline federals who do not already comply with the requirement. It includes education and counseling until termination of service.
The top Republicans on the House Monitoring and Reform Committee want more information on mandates and enforcement plans.
James Comer (R-Ky.), Senior member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform and Jody Hice (R-Ga.), Senior Republican of the Government Operations Subcommittee, seek information on rates compliance and attrition at the Personnel Office. Director of Management, Kiran Ahuja, Head of General Services Administration Robin Carnahan and Shalanda Young, Acting Director of the Bureau of Management and Budget.
Both wrote that they are not happy with statements by OPM, OMB and GSA that terms will only cause minimal attrition.
“If they are wrong about attrition [of contractors or federal employees], they risk significantly disrupting agency missions, major negative consequences for workers, families and businesses and the breach of countless federal contracts, ”they wrote.
The two also said the warrant “could ultimately be considered illegal,” citing a century-old ruling from a Massachusetts court that itself supported a vaccine warrant but only imposed fines for non-compliance. The letter makes no reference to a series of recent federal and state court decisions affirming the legality of COVID-19 vaccination warrants by private companies and government entities.
Comer and Hice wrote that they were also concerned about how the administration would handle allowed exceptions, saying “the insistence on allowing extremely few exemptions is also troubling.”
So far, there is “no indication of the number of employees who will be denied exemptions and reasonable accommodations,” Rapp-Tully said. There is therefore no indication of the number of unvaccinated people who will be made redundant. The “scope of the breach” of the mandate is not yet clear, she said.
Comer and Hice requested more information on warrants by Nov. 10, ranging from the number of Feds vaccinated to internal documents and follow-up communications to employee layoffs due to vaccination status.
Natalie Alms is a writer at FCW and covers the Federal Workforce. She recently graduated from Wake Forest University and wrote for the Salisbury (NC) Post. Connect with Natalie on Twitter at @AlmsNatalie.