In welcome news for government contractors, the government contractor vaccine mandate continues to soften. In a statement issued by the White House this morning, the deadline for complying with the mandate will be extended from December 8, 2021, to January 4, 2022, to align with the deadline of the OSHA emergency temporary standard that was
The Safer Federal Workforce Task Force (Task Force) recently issued additional Q&A’s that seemingly take a softer approach to compliance with the contractor vaccine mandate, indicating contracting officers are to “work with,” rather than punish contractors, in an effort to address challenges such as employees refusing to get vaccinated. Other answers in the Q&A further expand the mandate’s coverage to affiliates in ways that, while well-intentioned, may increase growing opposition to the already incredibly broad diktat.
For those reasons, unless and until the mandate is reversed by the administration or stopped by a federal court, which, as we will discuss in another post, now seems to be a real possibility, contractors subject to the contract provision should continue working toward getting “covered contractor employees” vaccinated by December 8 and processing requests for medical and religious accommodations. But it does suggest that the administration belatedly realizes that the vaccine mandate could cause very significant supply chain disruptions if strictly enforced.
The New Q&As
In the new Q&A’s issued on November 1, the Task Force clarifies several points that provide welcome flexibility for contractors. They also confirm that contractors working in good faith toward compliance may not be subject to punishment for failing to get 100% of their workforce vaccinated. But in other Q&As, the Task Force continues its incredibly broad implementation of the mandate.
On September 9, President Biden issued Executive Order 14042 requiring that federal contractors comply with forthcoming COVID-19 workplace safety guidance. That guidance, which was issued on September 24, is remarkably broad, requiring that employees working directly on government contracts, in connection with government contracts, or in the same facility as an employee in the first…
On September 24, following President Biden’s September 9 Executive Order, Ensuring Adequate COVID Safety Protocols for Federal Contractors, the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force (Task Force) issued new guidance on COVID-19 safety protocols applicable to federal contractors and subcontractors. It is notable that the guidance does not apply to grants.
Before the guidance was released, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget determined, as required by the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act that compliance with those measures laid out in the guidance will promote economy and efficiency in federal contracting. This determination was met because decreasing the spread of COVID-19 “will decrease worker absence, reduce labor costs, and improve the efficiency of contractors and subcontractors performing work for the Federal Government.” There is no indication that the director considered the impacts of attrition or costs on businesses to administer these requirements.
Breakdown of Requirements under New Executive Order
These requirements, in addition to any requirements applicable in a federal workplace, apply to contractors and subcontractors with a “covered contract.” The obligations that the guidelines require to be part of a soon-to-be draft contract clause include:
- By December 8, 2021, “covered contractor employees,” regardless of prior COVID-19 infection and associated immunity must be “fully vaccinated” for COVID-19. This means that at least two weeks have passed after they have received the last required dose of an approved vaccine, except in limited circumstances where an employee is legally entitled to an accommodation.
Many contractors have questions regarding when an employee may be legally entitled to an accommodation. The guidance provides that this may be the case “because of a disability (which would include medical conditions) or because of a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance.” It continues, “[r]equests for ‘medical accommodation’ or ‘medical exceptions’ should be treated as required for a disability accommodation.”
After December, all covered contractor employees must be fully vaccinated by the first day of the period of performance on a newly awarded contract and by the first day of the performance period on an exercised option or extended or renewed contract when the clause has been incorporated into the covered contract. This also applies to contractor employees working from home on a covered contract.
- Compliance by covered contractor employees and visitors with published CDC guidance for masking and physical distancing is required while in a “covered contractor workplace.” This does not apply to covered contractor employees working from home. It does, however, require that in areas of “high or substantial community transmission,” even fully vaccinated individuals wear a mask in indoor settings. To determine the level of community spread, covered contractors must check the CDC COVID-19 Data Tracker County View website.
- Designation by covered contractors of a COVID-19 workplace safety coordinator at covered contractors’ workplaces whose primary duties appear to be communicating the required safety protocols to all covered employees and visitors and confirming compliance by reviewing the required vaccine documentation. COVID-19 workplace safety protocols may comprise some or all of this person’s regular duties.
On September 9, among other measures, President Biden issued an Executive Order that will result in a mandate that contractor employees “performing on or in connection with a Federal Government contract or contract-like instrument” be vaccinated against COVID-19. The procedural steps, culminating in the issuance of a new contract clause that must occur before that mandate is effective are outlined below, along with another mandate to be implemented by the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA) that will apply to all companies in the U.S. with more than 100 employees. While neither are immediately effective and both will almost certainly face significant legal challenges, contractors must be aware of these requirements and start preparing now for their implementation.
New Executive Order Requires Government Contractors to Be Vaccinated for COVID-19
Unlike some Executive Orders that rely on the president’s own determination to direct a change to government contract requirements, the September 9, 2021 “Executive Order on Ensuring Adequate COVID-19 Safety Protocols for Federal Contractors” requires first that by September 24, 2021, the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force issue protocols for contractors and subcontractors to comply with workplace safety guidance. This guidance must include any exceptions that apply to contractor workplace locations and individuals.
Before the publication of the new guidance, the director of the Task Force, under a delegation of the president’s authority under the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act, must determine whether the guidance will “promote economy and efficiency in Federal contracting if adhered to by Government contractor and subcontractors.” Given that any vaccine mandate will almost certainly result in a significant number of contractor employees leaving the workforce, it is not clear whether the guidance would meet that standard.
As states and cities begin to ease COVID-19 restrictions and organizations return their employees to the workplace, employers are forced to navigate an unprecedented and fluid landscape of post-pandemic compliance issues.
This virtual seminar will address the difficult issues facing employers as they return their employees to the workplace and provide practical guidance for understanding…
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