WORKFORCE

Biden tells civilian feds, contractors to get vaccinated or take regular COVID tests

NOTE: A version of this article appeared first on FCW.com

The White House announced vaccination and testing requirements for over 2 million federal employees on Thursday. Federal employees can either confirm their vaccination status or follow strict protocols like masking and regular testing.

"I'm asking the Defense Department to look into how and when they will add COVID-19 to the list of vaccinations armed forces must get our men and women in uniform," Biden said in a speech from the White House. He added that he's directing the administration to "to take steps to apply similar standards to all federal contractors."

(In April, Washington Technology explored the prospect of such a directive for contractors in a Project 38 podcast episode with Brooke Iley, a partner for labor and employment law at law firm Blank Rome LLP; and Albert Krachman, a partner for government contracts at the firm)

The move comes as agencies are planning their "reentry" into physical workplaces. COVID-19 cases and deaths have been on the rise nationwide, and public health officials have flagged increased concerns about the Delta variant of the virus and vaccination rates.

Guidance released by the White House-led Safer Federal Workforce Taskforce on Thursday spelled out the new rules, which overturn a set of instructions that urged federal managers not to directly ask employees and contractors to share their vaccination status.

"Employees and onsite contractors must sign an attestation confirming their vaccination status, or they will be treated as not fully vaccinated for the purposes of safety protocols," the guidance states. Anyone who doesn't provide a response will be treated as unvaccinated.

In areas of high or substantial transmission, all feds, contractors and visitors must mask in buildings. In areas of low or moderate transmission in most settings, fully vaccinated people won't need to mask or distance.

Agencies also have to set up a system to test feds and onsite contractors who aren't vaccinated either weekly or twice-weekly. Unvaccinated feds and contractors will need to mask, physically distance and comply with the testing requirements. They'll also be subject to existing limits on official travel.

Fully vaccinated federal employees and contractors won't need to distance or be tested and aren't subject to any government-wide limits on official government travel.

The guidance also addresses reasonable accommodations. For feds who don't vaccinate because of religious reasons or due to a disability will follow the same safety protocols as unvaccinated individuals. They'll be subject to the reasonable accommodations process "in the rare case where they cannot."

Other items included in the new guidance include instructions that in-person meetings with greater than 50 participants will require the agency head's approval.

There are also guidelines on quarantining and exposure. Notably, the guidance says that fully vaccinated people who have had close contact with someone with a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 case should get tested 3-5 days later regardless of whether they have symptoms. It also says they should mask indoors in public for two weeks or until they get a negative test result, or quarantine for 10 days if it's positive.

Agencies will be able to cap occupancy levels in specific workplaces to allow physical distancing.

The guidance also addresses cleaning protocols. It also includes a reminder to agencies to satisfy bargaining agreements for their workplace safety plans and notes that agencies are "strongly encouraged to communicate regularly with employee representatives."

About the Author

Natalie Alms is a staff writer at FCW covering the federal workforce. She is a recent graduate of Wake Forest University and has written for the Salisbury (N.C.) Post. Connect with Natalie on Twitter at @AlmsNatalie.

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