Advertisement

Get vaccinated or face testing: Biden unveils tough new rules for federal workers

Click to play video: 'Biden tells federal workers to get vaccinated or face weekly COVID-19 testing' Biden tells federal workers to get vaccinated or face weekly COVID-19 testing
WATCH: Speaking on Thursday about the U.S. government’s next steps in the COVID-19 vaccination rollout, President Joe Biden said federal government employees would need to “attest to their vaccination status” or face weekly COVID-19 testing. He also said the Department of Veterans Affairs would require vaccinations of all doctors, nurses and health-care staff – Jul 29, 2021

America’s millions of federal workers will be required to verify they’ve been vaccinated against the coronavirus or else face mandatory masking, weekly testing, distancing and other new rules, the Biden administration announced Thursday.

The newly strict guidelines are aimed at boosting sluggish vaccination rates among the 4 million Americans who draw federal paychecks and to set an example for private employers around the country.

“It’s a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” President Joe Biden said in a White House address. Then he repeated it with emotion in his voice. “People are dying who don’t have to die.”

The administration is encouraging businesses to follow its lead on incentivizing vaccinations by imposing burdens on the unvaccinated. Rather than mandating that federal workers receive vaccines, the plan will make life more difficult for those who are unvaccinated to encourage them to comply.

Story continues below advertisement
Click to play video: 'CDC reinstates face mask recommendations amid U.S. surge in Delta variant cases' CDC reinstates face mask recommendations amid U.S. surge in Delta variant cases
CDC reinstates face mask recommendations amid U.S. surge in Delta variant cases – Jul 28, 2021

Biden is also directing the Defense Department to look into adding the COVID-19 shot to its list of required vaccinations for members of the military. And he has directed his team to take steps to apply similar requirements to all federal contractors.

Biden is also urging state and local governments to use funds provided by the coronavirus relief package to incentivize vaccinations by offering $100 to individuals who get the shots. And he’s announcing that small- and medium-sized businesses will receive reimbursements if they offer employees time off to get family members vaccinated.

Biden’s move for the federal government _ by far the nation’s largest employer _ comes in the face of surging coronavirus rates driven by pockets of vaccine resistance and the more infectious delta variant. A number of major corporations and some local governments are ordering new requirements on their own, but the administration feels much more is needed.

Story continues below advertisement
Click to play video: 'Biden calls on states to offer $100 COVID-19 vaccine incentive' Biden calls on states to offer $100 COVID-19 vaccine incentive
Biden calls on states to offer $100 COVID-19 vaccine incentive – Jul 29, 2021

However, pushback is certain. The action puts Biden squarely in the center of a fierce political debate surrounding the government’s ability to compel Americans to follow public health guidelines.

The move could work because evidence this far shows workers would rather get the vaccine than deal with burdens they consider onerous at work, said Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University Law School.

“People would much rather roll up their sleeves and get a jab, than undergo weekly testing and universal masking,” he said. “In many ways, this is really not a mandate, it’s giving workers a choice.”

Read more: COVID-19 spike, Delta variant concerns keeping U.S. travel rules in place: official

About 60% of American adults have been fully vaccinated. Biden had set a July 4 goal to get at least one shot in 70% of adults, and is still not quite there. The latest figure is 69.3.

Story continues below advertisement

According to the Office of Personnel Management, the executive branch employed more than 2.7 million civilians in 2020, with some of the most significant numbers in Republican-led Southern states including Texas and Florida, where substantial vaccine resistance remains.

But Thursday’s move is not just about federal workers.

The administration hopes it will nudge private companies push their workers harder to get vaccines that, while widely recognized as safe and effective, have yet to receive full approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

“I think we’ve reached this tipping point, and Biden’s announcement will provide a lot of air cover for companies and boards of directors who have difficult decisions facing them,” said Jeff Hyman, a Chicago-based business author and recruiter for start-up companies.

Employers want to get their workers vaccinated but have been holding back, said Andrew Challenger, senior vice president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a major workforce consulting firm.

“It is a large risk over the head of every employer if there is an outbreak at the office,” he said. “But so far we have seen very few employers using a stick instead of carrots.”

Click to play video: 'Biden tells federal workers to get vaccinated or face weekly COVID-19 testing' Biden tells federal workers to get vaccinated or face weekly COVID-19 testing
Biden tells federal workers to get vaccinated or face weekly COVID-19 testing – Jul 29, 2021

Gostin agrees: “We’ve begged, pleaded, cajoled people to be vaccinated; we’ve offered them incentives, and it’s clear that that is not working.”

Story continues below advertisement

Some of the nation’s biggest corporations have moved to require vaccinations for their workers. Tech giants Facebook and Google announced this week their employees would have to show proof they’ve been fully vaccinated before returning to work.

Delta and United airlines are requiring new employees to show proof of vaccination. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are requiring workers to disclose their vaccination status though not requiring them to be vaccinated.

Click to play video: 'Biden, corporate America launch tactics to get more people vaccinated' Biden, corporate America launch tactics to get more people vaccinated
Biden, corporate America launch tactics to get more people vaccinated – Jul 29, 2021

But fewer than 10% of employers have said they intend to require all employees to be vaccinated, based on periodic surveys by the research firm Gartner.

The Biden administration hopes its federal-worker guidance will help change that, by providing a model for state and local governments and private businesses to follow as workers prepare to return to offices this fall.

Story continues below advertisement

Many companies _ particularly smaller ones concerned about legal ramifications _ could take the guidance as “justification for implementing similar policies,” said Alexander Bick, an associate professor of economics at the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.

Questions about the new policy’s scope remain.

The guidance is not expected to cover the military, but it’s unclear if it will cover federal contractors. The White House hopes that releasing the new guidelines now will give agencies enough time to craft their own plans for implementation before workers return fully to offices.

And there is already opposition.

Click to play video: 'Biden says it’s ‘still a question’ whether federal government can mandate vaccines for everyone' Biden says it’s ‘still a question’ whether federal government can mandate vaccines for everyone
Biden says it’s ‘still a question’ whether federal government can mandate vaccines for everyone – Jul 29, 2021

State lawmakers across the U.S. have introduced more than 100 bills aiming to prohibit employers from requiring vaccination as a condition of employment, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy. At least six states have approved such bills.

Story continues below advertisement

The Justice Department and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have both said no federal laws prevent businesses from requiring vaccinations as a condition of employment and the federal policy would take precedent. But the “medical freedom” bills underscore the resistance such guidance may encounter at the state level.

Government actions in New York City and California have already faced resistance from local unions. And prior to Biden’s announcement, some national unions were speaking out against it.

Read more: How the Delta variant is reviving COVID-19 surges worldwide

Brian Rothenberg, spokesman for the 397,000-member United Auto Workers, said the union encourages workers to get vaccinated but is against requirements because some people have religious or health concerns.

Larry Cosme, President of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, which represents 30,000 federal officers and agents, said in a statement while the organization supports the vaccine it opposes compelling it.

“Forcing people to undertake a medical procedure is not the American way and is a clear civil rights violation no matter how proponents may seek to justify it,” he said.

Click to play video: 'England scraps COVID-19 quarantine for fully-vaccinated travellers from US, EU' England scraps COVID-19 quarantine for fully-vaccinated travellers from US, EU
England scraps COVID-19 quarantine for fully-vaccinated travellers from US, EU – Jul 28, 2021

 

Advertisement

Sponsored content