Unvaccinated federal employees or those who do not want to disclose their vaccination status must get weekly COVID-19 tests or face disciplinary action, according to guidance issued Aug. 19 by the White House Safer Federal Workforce Task Force.
Employees and contractors who refuse such measures can be barred from their workplaces for the safety of others and may be put on administrative leave if they cannot perform their work remotely, the guidance stated.
Agencies are responsible for setting up testing processes either through in-house capabilities, a third party contract, agreements with another agency with in-house testing, or a multiagency contract. Whichever approach agencies choose, they must cover testing costs, and sites should be close enough that an employee can leave, get tested and return to work within an hour. Federal offices will count that time as duty hours for the employees.
“An employee’s failure to comply with testing requirements can result in discipline, including an adverse action. An agency may separately elect to bar the employee from the agency workplace for the safety of others pending resolution of any disciplinary action,” the guidance stated.
“A contractor employee’s failure to comply with testing requirements can have consequences such as removal from the contract for the convenience of the government.”
The guidance did not outline types of potential adverse or disciplinary action against employees who refuse to get tested or show proof they got vaccinated. However, the law outlines those categories as covering everything from a letter of reprimand to a person losing their job.
Employees who cannot be tested because of a disability or religious reasons can request accommodation from their agency.
“All agency personnel designated to receive requests for disability accommodations should also know how to handle requests consistent with other federal employment nondiscrimination laws that may apply — for instance, with respect to religious accommodations,” the guidance said.
“While the request is being resolved, the agency may bar the employee from official worksites. During that temporary period, the agency may direct the employee to work from home. If the employee’s duties cannot be performed via telework, the employee should be granted administrative leave.”
Employees who work remotely full time are not subject to the weekly testing requirement for the duration of their telework, but people cannot be forced to telework solely because they are unvaccinated, as long as they complete the testing.
Employees who do not confirm their vaccination status but only come to the office on occasion need COVID tests only for the weeks they are at the work site.
And though the guidance requires weekly testing for unvaccinated employees, agencies have the authority to decide whether the nature of their work necessitates more frequent testing, though the task force noted that there should not be a reason to test more than twice a week.
Employees displaying COVID-19 symptoms or who have suspected virus exposure must get tested and should not go to their work sites while following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance on quarantine and safety measures.
Agencies should provide testing to employees exposed to COVID-19 at the work site, but people exposed outside of work will be responsible for their own testing. Government employers will reimburse costs for tests required for work travel.
Federal offices may keep records of employee test results, including Occupational Safety and Health Administration Injury and Illness Logs for exposure in the workplace, though those records must adhere to privacy and access regulations.
The guidance encouraged agencies to contact employee unions as soon as possible to rapidly implement testing procedures that adhere to collective bargaining agreements.
Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.