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The ongoing story of the vaccine mandate and its challenges

On Behalf of | Mar 1, 2022 | Federal Employment Law

It is nearly impossible to find an issue, political or otherwise, on which everyone in the United States currently agrees. And that is certainly true when it comes to vaccine mandates.

The current administration has issued several vaccine mandates aimed at protecting the public health, but those mandates have quickly come under fire. The situation remains fluid, but at this time, the courts have suspended or ended some of those mandates. Others remain in force, though marked by the asterisks of ongoing legal challenges.

What do the mandates currently mean for you?

As the Los Angeles Times notes, the current administration targeted different groups of employees with its mandates. These have seen different challenges, and your responsibilities under the mandates will vary according to your position.

  • The OSHA mandate had required all employees at large businesses to either get vaccinated or test weekly and wear a mask at work. On January 13th, the Supreme Court struck down this mandate, claiming it represented government overreach. The ruling did not prevent businesses from implementing their own mandates.
  • Health care workers at facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid payments must get vaccinated. Challenges to this mandate made their way to the Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court upheld the mandate and removed an injunction. Sixteen states have filed renewed legal challenges. However, facilities that do not comply risk losing access to Medicare and Medicaid.
  • Federal contractors needed to follow workplace safety precautions, according to an executive order. Those precautions included getting fully vaccinated, masking and designating Covid safety coordinators. The order allowed some exemptions, but the whole order is currently on pause. A federal judge filed an injunction against it. The case is currently moving toward a hearing with the Court of Appeals, but not at a particularly fast pace.
  • Federal employees faced mandatory vaccinations due to Executive Order 14043, but a federal court in Texas paused that mandate late in January. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to lift the injunction in early February, meaning agencies are currently unable to enforce the mandate. The White House may still appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

Notably, most of these cases are still open to future changes. That means it’s possible the mandate for health care workers may fall or that federal employees may see their mandate reinstated.

Understanding the exemptions

Despite the pause, the White House claims 98% of the federal workforce is already in compliance with the vaccine mandate. Approximately 93% of federal workers had already received at least one dose of the vaccine, while the remaining 5% had successfully filed for exemptions.

The exemptions exist to ensure the mandate does not discriminate against workers due to their religious beliefs or medical conditions. If the mandates resume, workers who seek exemptions will want to do more than claim the mandate is discriminatory. They will want to offer clear and compelling support for their arguments.


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