Government mandates vaccine for federal employees

The Joseph Brown Whitehead Building is home to Stamps Health Services, Tech’s healthcare hub. // Photo by Casey Gomez Student Publications

On Sept. 9, President Biden issued Executive Order 14042, which details how those contracted under the federal government must comply with the president’s COVID-19 safeguards in the workplace, which includes being fully vaccinated against the virus.

Recently, Tech realized that the order applies to many of its employees and started the push to reach compliance with all of its federally contracted workers.

President Biden released a series of executive orders that aim to decrease the spread of COVID-19, with some requiring those employed directly or contracted by the federal government to comply with the orders’ guidelines or risk their employment.

The Safer Federal Workforce Task Force oversees the implementation of these orders, and released further instruction on Executive Order 14042 on Sept. 24.

“These safeguards will decrease worker absence, reduce labor costs, and improve the efficiency of contractors and subcontractors performing work for the Federal Government,” the Task Force said in their report.

They also affirmed that all federally contracted or subcontracted workers must receive COVID-19 vaccination under the order.

Tech sent an email on Oct. 26 to inform all employees of the requirements of the executive order and who is affected at the Institute. The three affected groups are employees working on or in connection with a covered federal contract, employees performing support functions for those contracts and employees that work in the same space as the previous two groups but are not federally contracted.

The Institute held a town hall on Oct. 29 to better explain the order’s effect on Tech employees and answer questions about the vaccination requirements. These were intended to assuage any fears that employees have had about the unknown aspects of the bill, and provide insight into the bill for the good of those it will be affecting in the upcoming weeks and months to follow.

“This federal order is very encompassing, it’s very widespread, and so it applies to us as a federal contractor,” said Mike Shannon, deputy chief business officer at Tech.

Shannon better explained the three categories of affected workers, and also noted that the order includes full and part-time employees and student employees.

In total, Shannon said that there are “about 77% of the Institute’s employees who are affected, so roughly about 15,600 of our over 20,000 employees.”

Employees can request accommodation for the order based on medical or religious reasons, or can opt to decline vaccination and risk the consequences of noncompliance with the order.

While the former is available to those who meet the requirements without any consequence, there will be potential penalties for those who opt for the latter and choose to forgo the vaccine for none of the aforementioned reasons above.

When asked about the consequences, Kim Harrington, associate vice president of Human Resources, admitted that the Institute is still deciding what those will be.

“The corrective action path is still under discussion,” she said. “We’re still working through that; our focus as an Institute is working for compliance.”

The order gives the authority for enforcing these penalties to the employer of those are choose not to be vaccinated, and will instead have the federal government directly fine the organization that employees the individual until they either enforce a penalty themselves.

Shannon and Harrington stressed that Dec. 8 was the deadline for vaccine compliance as set by the Task Force, which is slightly different than the Nov. 22 deadline set by the Biden administration, and recommended all unvaccinated workers to make their decision soon so they can achieve full vaccination by that date, or have time to fill for exempt status should they meet the requirements set forth.

More questions arose regarding what counted as being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and when the final dose of a vaccine must be received by. “You’re considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the second dose of a two dose series, which will include Moderna and the Pfizer vaccines, or two weeks after the only dose of a one dose [series]” said Benjamin Holton, senior director of Tech health services.

“You are also considered fully vaccinated if you have the complete series of a vaccine that is listed by the WHO for emergency use,” Holton said about other vaccines that are approved abroad.

While Tech moves forward with achieving total compliance with the order, Georgia and multiple other states have filed lawsuits against the federal government over the executive orders, as reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

These states argue that the federal government overstepped its authority in implementing this mandate, and have requested that the order be struck down immediately by the court system.

Tech joined many other USG schools in spreading word about the order last week, and intends to meet the Dec. 8 deadline regardless of any pending challenges to the mandate.

At the end of the town hall, Shannon reiterated the deadline of Dec. 8 for full vaccination and for affected employees to make their decision soon to schedule a vaccine appointment, request an accommodation, or decline the vaccine. He encouraged all employees to visit to check their vaccination status with the Institute, submit necessary documents for compliance, and find more information about the order and time lines for vaccination.