Federal Benefits Service

New Task Force Calls on Agencies to Offer Leave to Federal Employees Seeking COVID-19 Vaccination, and Doubles Down on Mask Mandate

As the pandemic ensues, the Biden administration’s Safer Federal Workforce Task Force has updated guidelines on how agencies should handle labor unions, leave and mask mandates accordingly. Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, led by the Office of Personnel Management, White House COVID-19 response team and General Services Administration, is the creation of President Joe Biden’s mask mandate executive order, which was issued on his first day in office. 

In particular, the task force decided that agencies can and should offer administrative leave to federal employees who are receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. 

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, 582,000 first doses and 44,000 second doses of the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine have been delivered to veterans, while more than 401,000 doses have been given to VA employees. 

An additional 1,200 have been administered to personnel from other federal agencies that work with the VA, according to officials. The VA is distributing vaccines at more than 215 sites across the country, with the intent to expand to additional sites as soon as vaccine supplies increase.  

Biden’s Safe Federal Workforce Task Force wants to see these numbers increase by granting allotted time for federal employees to receive the vaccine. 

“An agency head (or authorized designee) has discretionary authority to grant administrative leave in appropriate circumstances,” the FAQs read. “To facilitate expeditious vaccination of the federal workforce, agencies should offer leave-eligible employees a minimum of four hours of administrative leave per dose to use as needed— for a minimum total of eight hours of leave for employees receiving two doses.” 

Depending on location, certain employees may need more or less time to travel to receive the vaccine, according to the task force. 

The FAQS fail to answer how or where federal employees should obtain the vaccination, and also whether or not their employer will play any role in the distribution of it. They do however present more information on how agencies should enforce the president’s recent mask mandate. 

Disciplinary action is recommended for employees who refuse to wear a mask, the task force said. 

“An agency may elect to bar the employee from the workplace for the safety of others until it determines the appropriate disciplinary action and any related proceedings are concluded,” the FAQs read. 

Agencies that choose this route are required to give employees appropriate notice and place them on paid administrative leave before taking any form of disciplinary action. 

Federal employees who have a disability or religious issue to the mask mandate can meet with their supervisors to discuss other options, the task force said.  Appropriate accommodations would then be agreed upon.   

The Safer Federal Workforce Task Force encourage agencies to communicate with employee unions about their safety plans. The task force cites a requirement in Biden’s mask executive order, which called on agencies to “promptly consult” with federal unions. 

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