As a federal employee, you may be confused about the current state of federal vaccine mandates. That’s understandable. There are multiple vaccine mandates in play, and their statuses have changed a great deal in the past months. One of the more important updates came recently as the Supreme Court weighed in on two separate mandates.
On January 13, the Supreme Court ruled that one mandate needed to go but another could remain in effect. It struck down the mandate that OSHA had imposed on large private companies. It kept the mandate for health workers at facilities that receive payments from Medicare or Medicaid.
Understanding the Supreme Court’s decision
The Supreme Court’s ruling does not block individual vaccine mandates. Instead, the decision to end OSHA’s mandate is a response to what it deemed as a misuse of OSHA’s authority. The majority opinion claimed that OSHA’s mandate had gone beyond regulating workplace dangers and moved into a broader regulation of public health.
At the same time, the Supreme Court allowed the vaccine mandate for health care workers to stand. It said that different rules applied. The Department of Health and Human Services, along with the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services (CMS), had already set standards for healthcare providers to receive funding. Within this context, the Supreme Court acknowledged the vaccine mandate as a reasonable safety precaution.
Federal workers and contractors are treated differently
Neither of the Supreme Court’s rulings affected the vaccine mandates already in place for federal employees or federal contractors. However, lawyers have filed numerous challenges to the mandate for federal contractors. As of mid-January, the challenges were headed to four separate U.S. Courts of Appeals. As a result, the government will not enforce the mandate while it remains in litigation. As Bloomberg Law reports, the challenges could affect one-quarter of the U.S. workforce.
The vaccine mandate for federal employees remains in place. It was issued through an executive order on September 9, 2021 and took effect by November 22, 2021. By December 8, 2021, the White House reported that 92.5% of employees had received at least one vaccine dose.
While most federal employees have complied with the mandate, the White House noted the rules allowed some room for extensions and some for exceptions.
What are the exceptions to the federal employee vaccine mandate?
The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) says that federal employees may request exceptions to the vaccine mandate for two main reasons:
- Religious beliefs
In some cases, employees may also request deadline extensions due to medical needs. These requests are handled on a case-by-case basis.
The GSA notes that federal employees who receive an exception should expect to take other precautions. If they cannot work remotely, they should plan to mask. They should also observe social distancing and testing protocols, plus any applicable travel restrictions.
What if my request for an exception is denied?
Federal law prevents others from treating you unfairly because of your disability or religious belief. It also allows for reasonable accommodations. If you are unjustly denied an exception for your disability or religious belief, you have the right to appeal.
Notably, discrimination cases for federal employees often differ from those in the private sector. The biggest difference is the initial informal phase that takes place within your agency. Attorneys do not all understand the importance of each phase in a federal employment case, so you may wish to look for one who focuses on federal employment law.