White House Indicates Flexibility on COVID-19 Vaccination Deadline

Allen Smith, J.D. By Allen Smith, J.D. November 1, 2021
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The White House in autumn

[Editor's note: Under the emergency temporary standard, all unvaccinated workers must begin wearing masks by Dec. 6, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and provide a negative COVID-19 test on a weekly basis beginning Jan. 4.]

The White House issued guidance on Nov. 1 that its Dec. 8 deadline for federal contractors to be vaccinated against COVID-19 isn't set in stone, providing companies with the opportunity to educate workers past that date rather than fire workers who haven't been vaccinated by then.

"A covered contractor should determine the appropriate means of enforcement with respect to its employee at a covered contractor workplace who refuses to be vaccinated and has not been provided, or does not have a pending request for, an accommodation," according to the guidelines.

As federal contractors prepare to implement the vaccine mandate, many questions have arisen on timing, costs and related issues, which prompted the White House to release the new guidance.  

We've gathered articles on the news from SHRM Online and other media outlets.

'Flexibility Within the System'

Jeff Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said he expects federal agencies and contractors "will follow their standard HR processes and that for any of the probably relatively small percent of employees that are not in compliance, they'll go through education, counseling, accommodations and then enforcement." He added, "We're creating flexibility within the system. … There is not a cliff here."

(Reuters)

Deadline for Federal Employees

Federal employees have until Nov. 22 to be fully vaccinated. The U.S Office of Personnel Management announced on Oct. 1 that agencies may start disciplining covered workers on Nov. 9 if they haven't completed their vaccination process by Nov. 8. The White House's recent announcement may give agencies more flexibility.

(SHRM Online)

Senator's Letter to White House

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., sent the White House a letter Oct. 26 asserting that the "federal contractor vaccine mandate will have negative effects on our national security." Tuberville called on President Joe Biden "to remove—or, at a minimum, delay and clarify—vaccination requirements on private companies and academic research institutions that are actively supporting the Department of Defense."

(Washington Examiner)

House Armed Services Committee Members' Petition

Nearly a dozen Republican lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee similarly petitioned the White House and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to reverse the Pentagon's vaccine mandate for contractors over fears it could lead to supply chain issues.

(Yahoo!News)

White House Doesn't Expect Disruptions to Economy

Zients does not expect any disruptions to the U.S. economy as a result of the vaccination mandate for federal contractors. "These processes play out across weeks, not days," he said. American Airlines and Southwest Airlines have said they don't think the Dec. 8 deadline for federal contractors would impact holiday travel or result in employees leaving. Some industry watchers feared widespread departures of unvaccinated employees just before the holiday season.

Zients also noted that a rule will soon be finalized to mandate that private-sector workers at companies with at least 100 employees are vaccinated or tested for COVID-19 weekly.

(Daily Mail) and (SHRM Online)

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