“We developed a miracle vaccine in a very short period of time, and there has been a lot hesitancy from the government and from businesses to run with a top-down approach,” said Andrew Challenger, senior vice president at the workforce consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “Now we’ve reached a point where it’s become very clear the individual incentive people have to protect themselves has not been strong enough to protect the country, and we’re seeing the government take this first step.” Biden’s plan for the federal workforce, announced Thursday, stopped short of a direct order for feds to roll up their sleeves.
Right now, there’s a lack of clear answers. Getting the policy right will take time, and vary across government agencies. The same holds for private companies, for which the White House is trying to provide a guide. It’s not like there’s a cheat sheet. Nothing on this scale has been attempted before in the face of a virus morphing in real time to become a bigger threat.
Instead, workers will have to attest to whether they’re vaccinated. Although employees will not be required to produce a vaccination card, “attest” is a loaded word in the federal workplace, minutely governed by rules and regulations. It implies consequences for providing false or misleading information. How that will be enforced remains unclear, but employees who voluntarily provide valid proof of vaccination will likely settle potential questions upfront. The unvaccinated will have to put up with regular testing, required masking and social distancing, and they will be barred from official travel. Similar rules will be applied to federal contractors.
LifestyleBiden push to vaccinate feds forces uncomfortable questionsBecause of virus, survey detailing American life is cut backRon Popeil was the sizzle of American ingenuity, personified Continual testing raises other issues. For most people, health insurance has been paying. But will that continue if someone refuses to be vaccinated and is not eligible for medical or religious exemptions? Masking has been a perennially touchy subject. But how will agencies enforce a masking policy if not everyone is required to be vaccinated? Will supervisors patrol the cubicles with lists of the unvaccinated?
There are many reasons why translating Biden’s order to the workplace may not go smoothly. Government agencies tend to have their own unique cultures, and their missions run the gamut. Doctors at the National Institutes of Health are probably already vaccinated, but some law enforcement agents may be wary of getting a shot not yet fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The largest union representing federal workers, the American Federation of Government Employees, already served notice it expects any changes to working conditions will be “properly negotiated with our bargaining units prior to implementation.” As for the Pentagon, it’s been ordered to study how and when COVID-19 vaccines will become mandatory for military personnel. Service members are already required to get as many as 17 vaccines, depending on where they are based around the world.
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