With the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19 reversing pandemic progress around the country — and an urgent need to “stop the rapid spread of this virus as we work to get more people vaccinated” — President Biden today announced that all federal employees and on-site contractors will have to show proof of vaccination against the virus or submit to regular testing and work restrictions.
Biden’s announcement came as Washington, D.C., announced a mask mandate for all people over age 2, regardless of vaccination status, in indoor spaces beginning Sunday at 5 a.m. The District is also encouraging eligible residents to get vaccinated at designated sites by offering $51 Visa gift cards to people receiving their first dose. Those working in the D.C. government will also be required to get COVID-19 vaccines.
The White House said that “every federal government employee and on-site contractor will be asked to attest to their vaccination status,” and “anyone who does not attest to being fully vaccinated will be required to wear a mask on the job no matter their geographic location, physically distance from all other employees and visitors, comply with a weekly or twice weekly screening testing requirement, and be subject to restrictions on official travel.”
That applies to a labor force of more than 4 million, including 2 million in the federal civilian workforce, both domestic and abroad.
In addition to applying the rules to on-site contractors, Biden “is further directing his team to take steps to apply similar standards to all federal contractors,” the White House said, adding that “the administration will encourage employers across the private sector to follow this strong model.”
Biden also directed the Defense Department, which reverted to requiring masks in areas of higher transmission per the CDC guidance this week, “to look into how and when they will add COVID-19 vaccination to the list of required vaccinations for members of the military.” Nearly a third of active-duty military members had not yet received at least one dose of the available vaccines by the end of June.
Small- and medium-sized businesses, which since April have been eligible for reimbursement so that workers can have paid time off to get vaccinated, will now be reimbursed for time off taken by employees to get family members vaccinated. The president also called on state and local governments to use American Rescue Plan funding to offer $100 incentives to get vaccinated, and called on school districts to hold at least one vaccination clinic to get kids 12 and older prepared to return to school.
“If you want to do business with the federal government get your workers vaccinated. Look at the Chamber of Commerce representing tens of thousands of American businesses. The National Association of Manufacturers. The Business Roundtable which comprises the largest and biggest corporations in America,” Biden said. “They’re all applauding the actions the federal government is taking and urge them to follow suit.”
“And the Justice Department has made it clear that it is legal to require COVID-19 vaccines,” he added. “We all want our lives to get back to normal. And fully vaccinated workplaces will make that happen more quickly and more successfully. We all know that in our gut. With incentives and mandates we can make a huge difference and save a lot of lives.”
American Federation of Government Employees National President Everett Kelley said in response to Biden’s announcement that the largest federal workers’ union expects “that the particulars of any changes to working conditions, including those related to COVID-19 vaccines and associated protocols, be properly negotiated with our bargaining units prior to implementation.”
“While we await specific proposals and anticipate the negotiation process, we encourage all of our members who are able to take advantage of the opportunity to get vaccinated and help our nation put an end to this deadly pandemic,” Kelley said.