The country’s millions of federal workers will have to verify that they have been vaccinated against the coronavirus or otherwise face mandatory masking, weekly tests, distancing and other new rules, the Biden administration announced on Thursday.
The new strict guidelines aim to encourage slow vaccination rates among the huge numbers of Americans who draw federal paychecks and set an example for private employers across the country.
The government is encouraging companies to follow suit in boosting vaccinations by imposing charges on the unvaccinated. Rather than requiring federal workers to get vaccines, the plan will make life harder for those who haven’t been vaccinated to encourage them to stick to it.
Biden is also instructing the Department of Defense to add the COVID-19 shot to the list of required immunizations for members of the military. And he has directed his team to take steps to apply similar requirements to all federal contractors.
Tune in as I comment on the next steps in our effort to get more Americans vaccinated and stop the spread of the Delta strain. https://t.co/WwFw2nT72p
— President Biden (@POTUS) July 29, 2021
Biden is also urging state and local governments to use funds provided by the coronavirus relief package to boost vaccinations by offering $100 to individuals receiving the injections. And he announces that small and medium-sized businesses will receive compensation if they offer employees time off to vaccinate family members.
Biden’s move for the federal government — by far the country’s largest employer — comes in light of rising coronavirus rates caused by vaccine resistance and the more contagious delta strain. A number of large companies and a number of local authorities are ordering new requirements themselves, but the administration believes that much more is needed.
However, setbacks are certain. The move puts Biden at the center of a fierce political debate over the government’s ability to compel Americans to follow public health guidelines.
The move could work, as the evidence to date shows that workers would rather get the vaccine than deal with the burdens they consider heavy at work, said Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University Law School.
“People would rather roll up their sleeves and get a shot than undergo weekly tests and universal masks,” he said. “In many ways, this really isn’t a mandate. It gives employees a choice.”
About 60% of American adults are fully vaccinated. Biden had set a goal of getting at least one shot at 70% of adults on July 4, and still isn’t quite there. The last digit is 69.3.
According to the Office of Personnel Management, in 2020 the executive employed more than 2.7 million citizens, with some of the most significant numbers in Republican-led Southern states, including Texas and Florida, where significant vaccine resistance persists.
But Thursday’s move isn’t just about federal workers.
The government hopes it will encourage private companies to push their employees 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 aerial coverage for companies and boards of directors that have to make tough decisions,” said Jeff Hyman, a Chicago-based corporate author and recruiter to start. companies on.
Employers want to vaccinate their employees, but are reluctant, said Andrew Challenger, senior vice president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a large workforce consulting firm.
“It’s a big risk over the head of any employer if there is an outbreak in the office,” he said. “But so far, we’ve seen very few employers using a stick instead of carrots.”
Gostin agrees: “We begged, pleaded and persuaded people to get vaccinated; we’ve offered them incentives and it’s clear that’s not working.”
Some of the country’s largest companies have moved to demand vaccinations for their employees. Tech giants Facebook and Google announced this week that their employees must prove they have been fully vaccinated before returning to work.
Delta and United airlines require new employees to show proof of vaccination. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley require employees to disclose their vaccination status, but do not require them to be vaccinated.
But less than 10% of employers have said they plan to vaccinate all employees, based on periodic surveys by research firm Gartner.
The Biden administration hopes the guidance of federal workers will change that, by providing a model for state and local governments and private companies to follow as workers prepare to return to offices this fall.
Many companies — especially smaller ones concerned about legal ramifications — could view the guidelines as “justification for implementing similar policies,” said Alexander Bick, an associate professor of economics in the WP Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.
Questions remain about the scope of the new policy.
The guidance isn’t expected to cover the military, but it’s unclear if it will cover federal contractors. The White House hopes releasing the new guidelines will give agencies enough time to make their own plans for implementation before employees fully return to their offices.
And there is already opposition.
According to the National Academy for State Health Policy, state lawmakers in the US have introduced more than 100 bills to prohibit employers from requiring vaccination as a condition of employment. At least six states have passed such bills.
The Department of Justice and the federal Equal Employment Commission have both said that no federal law prohibits companies from requiring vaccinations as a condition of employment and that federal policy would take precedence. But the “medical freedom” laws underscore the resistance that such guidelines can face at the state level.
Government actions in New York City and California have already met resistance from local unions. And prior to Biden’s announcement, some national unions spoke out against it.
Brian Rothenberg, spokesman for the 397,000-member United Auto Workers, said the union encourages workers to get vaccinated but opposes the requirements because some people have religious or health problems.
Larry Cosme, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, which represents 30,000 federal officers and agents, said in a statement that the organization supports the vaccine it opposes.
“Forcing people to undergo a medical procedure is not the American way and is a clear violation of civil rights no matter how advocates try to justify it,” he said.