Even with the COVID-19 national emergency officially declared “over,” federal employees are still being encouraged to get booster shots to ward off the coronavirus, and they can take leave to do so, according to the government’s HR office.

The federal task force that had been charged with developing health and safety policies for the workforce at the height of the pandemic was sunsetted via executive order on April 12, leaving the Office of Personnel Management to step in and shape follow-on policies addressing the current presence of the coronavirus in the workplace.

“COVID-19 remains a public health threat of sufficient magnitude as to warrant continuation of certain other proactive policies,” said Kiran Ahuja, OPM’s director, in a memo to agencies on Friday.

As such, federal employees may be entitled to up to four hours of administrative leave, which does not interfere with their pay, to get an updated dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“The administration strongly encourages federal employees to get recommended doses of updated COVID-19 vaccines even when receiving those vaccines is not a job requirement,” wrote Ahuja. “Vaccines remain the best tool we have in our toolbox to combat COVID-19. They are safe, effective and free.”

For a time, vaccination against the virus that was linked to the deaths of 1.2 million Americans was a condition for employment with the federal government. By 2021, more than 98% of federal workers had been vaccinated. Service members in the military had also been told by the Pentagon they must get vaccinated or risk being separated for not complying with orders. Even as it was unfolding, the federal government’s handling of the pandemic drew widespread controversy and sparked debate over to what extent the bureaucracy should intervene in public health crises. Vaccine mandates in particular, issued by President Joe Biden via executive order, were eventually challenged in the courts, with opponents and vaccination skeptics saying it was an act of government overreach and violated constitutional and statutory rights.

The case affecting federal workers rose through the federal appeals courts and caught the attention of the U.S. Supreme Court, which ultimately threw out the case once the Biden administration repealed its vaccine mandate on May 1.

Now, with the substance of those disagreements now mostly moot, the federal government is still monitoring coronavirus spread, but with a much more removed approach. The U.S. hospitalization rate for COVID is down 95%, on average, from its peak in 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For feds who wish to take advantage of the leave benefit, they must first get approval from their supervisor. A worker cannot be “credited” administrative leave or overtime work for time spent getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

If an employee is required by their agency to get vaccinated because they’re employed under a specific policy, like that for health care workers, then they may get a vaccine during work hours without needing to apply for admin leave.

Compared to previous versions of this guidance, feds can no longer use administrative leave to accompany a family member getting vaccinated, deal with reactions or feelings of sickness after a vaccine, or to get tested for COVID-19. Sick leave can be used for those purposes instead.

Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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