NAICU Washington Update

Vaccine Guidance for Federal Contractors Released

October 01, 2021

Under new guidance released last week, federal contractors and subcontractors will be required to impose COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other safety protocols on their employees. This is the first of several steps expected to be unveiled in the coming weeks, including the much anticipated guidance for employers with more than 100 employees.

The new guidance is designed to implement an Executive Order (EO) that President Biden signed as part of his broader COVID-19 action plan. The guidance was issued by the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, which is authorized by the EO to establish COVID-19 safety protocols for federal contractors. According to the new protocols specified in the guidance, federal contractors and subcontractors are required to:
  • Mandate that all employees be fully vaccinated (defined as two weeks after the last vaccination dose is received) by December 8, unless an employee is legally entitled to a religious or medical/disability exemption;
  • Verify employee vaccination status;
  • Designate a COVID-19 workplace safety coordinator; and
  • Mandate that employees and visitors comply with masking and physical distancing guidance in the workplace.
The guidance specifies that all employees of federal contractors and subcontractors are covered by the new requirements, including those who do not work on or in connection with the contract, unless the contractor can affirmatively determine that employees working in other areas of the building or other sites will not come in contact with covered employees. Remote workers are considered to be employees and are therefore subject to the vaccine requirement. A residence, however, is not considered to be part of the workplace. As a result, masking and physical distancing requirements will not apply to remote workers. 

All new federal contracts and subcontracts must contain provisions requiring compliance with the guidance, which is likely to be adjusted over time. Federal agencies are also being urged to incorporate similar provisions into existing contracts. 

The guidance states that the new rules are being promulgated pursuant to federal law and therefore supersede conflicting state or local laws. Although legal challenges to the guidance are expected, it remains to be seen whether litigation will slow, or even permanently halt, implementation of the guidance.

The federal contracting requirements are just one part of Biden’s COVID-19 action plan that will affect colleges and universities. Two other components of the plan – a vaccine or testing mandate for large employers and paid time off for workers to get vaccinated – will not be implemented until the Department of Labor’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) issues new rules to implement such requirements.

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