Updated Guidance on the Vaccine Mandate for Federal Employees
September 17, 2021
Yesterday afternoon, the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force released new, updated FAQs for Vaccinations: https://www.saferfederalworkforce.gov/faq/vaccinations/ (All of the FAQs are available here: https://www.saferfederalworkforce.gov/new/.)
The administration says additional guidance on legally required exceptions and other aspects of the vaccine will be forthcoming. NFFE continues to press the administration to address all of the topics of our members’ concern in the guidance. Our members have been very engaged over the last week and have shared many great, well-considered ideas. We thank everyone for the excellent communication as we navigate this complicated change together. Keep it up!
Local leaders should engage the agencies locally and invoke bargaining rights right away. Discussions should focus on all local specific issues your members are concerned about, to include at a minimum these topics:
- Reasonable accommodation request process (are current agency policies unclear, silent or vague?)
- How documentation will be collected and maintained
- On-site vaccinations opportunities
- Progressive discipline
As the FAQ is as of now silent on progressive discipline, NFFE encourages our leaders to also make proposals on vaccine-related discipline consistent with NFFE’s position that no employee should be fired in connection with the vaccine mandate. For example: “The Agency commits to the use of progressive discipline. First, management may issue a warning of non-compliance the employee after November 22, 2021. Employees will have 30 days to comply with the vaccine mandate if not granted exception. Failure to comply may result in a Letter of Reprimand and a second opportunity of 30 days to comply. Failure to comply with the second opportunity may result in a suspension and a third opportunity of 30 days to comply. Failure to comply with the third opportunity may result in an indefinite suspension.” Agencies might push back at this proposal. At least this should spark discussion about how the purpose of the mandate is to foster vaccination as opposed to punishment.
Agencies must implement Government-wide policy by the deadline, so any bargaining that has not been completed by the time implementation must begin will have to be finished post-implementation.
Mark your calendars with these key dates and ensure employees know them. To meet the deadline for full vaccination, employees must have their first shot on this schedule:
- Pfizer by Oct 18th
- Moderna by Oct 11th
- J&J by Nov 8th
Search vaccines.gov, text your ZIP code to 438829, or call 1-800-232-0233 to find vaccine locations near you in the U.S. We will be pressing agencies in bargaining to provide worksite vaccination opportunities.
Employees should request exemptions as soon as possible to have the best shot at getting approved before the deadline. The FAQ confirms exceptions may be granted through the reasonable accommodation process if vaccination is not possible because of a disability or because of a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance. At this time, we know agencies have discretion under their current policies to process reasonable accommodation requests. Our members should review the existing reasonable accommodations policy and submit requests asap through the current procedures. More guidance on exceptions and reasonable accommodations will be coming from the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force. NFFE will be paying close attention to how the agencies are implementing reasonable accommodation requests for the vaccine to ensure requests are handled timely, consistently, and lawfully.
The FAQ makes clear the type of documentation you must provide to show you’ve been vaccinated. The attestation forms previously submitted do not count. NFFE leaders may negotiate the procedures for how the information is provided by the employees. The new FAQ provides that employees must certify under penalty of perjury that the documentation they are submitting is true and correct. NFFE encourages employees to take care to meet deadlines and be truthful in everything they provide to the agency on the topic of vaccines. We want to avoid anyone facing discipline for making false statements.
NFFE will continue to provide updates as additional information on the vaccines is released. Keep in mind, NFFE’s collective bargaining agreements already include many strong protections and rights for employees on discipline, safety, special leaves, work schedule flexibilities and telework. These provisions have full force and effect under the vaccine mandate. NFFE will enforce the rights we earned at past tables while we are also bargaining for more specific to vaccines.