Last Friday, the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force issued a guidance document intended to help implement President Joe Biden’s executive order requiring COVID-19 vaccinations and other measures for all federal workers and U.S. employees of federal contractors and subcontractors, regardless of their size or relationship to the prime federal contract. Under the order, all covered employees except those legally entitled to an accommodation must be fully vaccinated by December 8, 2021. For current contracts, the requirement is triggered if the contract is extended or an option is exercised after October 15, 2021. For new federal contracts entered into after November 14, the required compliance date is the first date of performance under the contract.
Employers cannot take employees’ word that they have been vaccinated and must require that they show their CDC vaccination card, a copy or picture of the card, or another medical record confirming vaccination. The guidance does not allow testing as an alternative to vaccinations, and previous COVID-19 infections or antibody tests will not serve as substitutes. The guidance allows for medical or religious exemptions, presumably those consistent with requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VII of civil rights law.
In addition to the vaccination requirement, federal contractors must adopt and enforce masking and physical distancing requirements as set forth in guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These requirements may change based on the latest CDC guidance and COVID-19 rates in the areas where their workplaces are located. The guidance applies to any portions of the employer’s worksite where a covered employee is expected to be present.
The guidance concludes by stating that federal contractors’ compliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s upcoming COVID-19 emergency temporary standard will not substitute for following the contracting requirements. While that temporary standard may be subject to strong legal challenges, federal courts generally allow the government to impose conditions on federal contractors that go well beyond those applicable to other private employers.