WASHINGTON – Most federal workers who failed to meet the Nov. 22 deadline to get vaccinated against the coronavirus will not risk being suspended or losing their jobs until next year, the Biden administration said in enforcement guidance Monday.
Instead, managers will continue “with robust education and counseling efforts through this holiday season as the first step in an enforcement process,” according to the guidance.
Ninety-two percent of federal workers received at least one dose of the vaccine by the deadline, the administration announced last week. The rest have either not complied with the president’s mandate or asked to be exempted for religious or medical reasons.
The American Federation of Government Employees, which had asked the administration to harmonize the mandate with the Jan. 4th vaccination deadline for federal contractors, applauded the enforcement timeline.
“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,” Everett Kelley, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO, said in a statement.
Kelley also encouraged all union members to get vaccinated “as soon as they possibly can.”
Kelley was reacting to guidance issued Monday from the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management.
Those offices emphasized that the Nov. 22 deadline “was not an endpoint or a cliff.”
“Counseling, of course, would be the first step,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday. “That’s long been our approach.”
While some agencies may need to accelerate enforcement if there are workplace safety issues or performance problems, agencies were encouraged not to take actions beyond education, counseling or, at most, a letter of reprimand until January.
The next step after a letter is suspension for a period of 14 days or less.
Workers who remain unvaccinated who have not received an exemption can ultimately be dismissed.
Vaccination rates at the federal agencies range from 86.1% at the Agriculture Department to 97.8% at the Agency for International Development.
Biden announced the mandate for federal employees in September as part of his administration’s strategy to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and boost vaccination rates across the country.
Biden also ordered private employers with 100 or more workers to ensure that their workforce is entirely vaccinated by Jan. 4 or face weekly COVID testing.
A federal appeals court put the vaccine requirement for private employers on hold after leadership in several conservative states as well as businesses sued. The case is likely headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Maureen Groppe has covered Washington for nearly three decades and is now a White House correspondent for USA TODAY. Follow her on Twitter @mgroppe.