White House asks agencies to delay consequences for vaccine mandate violations

Agencies have the power to decide how to discipline unvaccinated feds, but the White House is encouraging them to go beyond education, counseling and letters of reprimand until after the holidays.

Agencies are being encouraged not to discipline unvaccinated feds beyond education, counseling and letters of reprimand until after holiday season.

The Office of Management and Budget’s deputy director for management, Jason Miller, and the Office of Personnel Management’s director, Kiran Ahuja, wrote in an email sent to agencies Monday morning that this is “given… tremendous progress” in vaccination rates among the federal workforce.

They also stressed that “we have been clear that the goal of the federal employee vaccination requirement is to protect federal workers, not to punish them.”

The administration’s vaccination deadline passed on Nov. 22. As of Nov. 23, about 92% of federal employees have had at least one dose. Another 4.5% were waiting on exception requests or already had one approved.

For the remaining 3.5%, the White House’s Safer Federal Workforce Taskforce is recommending that agencies put in place a “progressive discipline” process that starts with education and counseling before escalating to measures like suspensions. The ultimate consequence for continued noncompliance is termination from federal service.

“We encourage your agencies to continue with robust education and counseling efforts through this holiday season as the first step in an enforcement process, with no subsequent enforcement actions, beyond that education and counseling and, if warranted, a letter of reprimand, for most employees who have not yet complied with the vaccination requirement until the new calendar year begins in January,” Ahuja and Miller wrote.

Agencies have discretion to decide for themselves how to implement the White House’s mandate for their employees. Some may need to start more robust enforcement for workplace safety reasons, for example, before the new year, Miller and Ahuja wrote.

Nonetheless, they emphasized that “in general, consistency across government” in terms of enforcement “is desired.”

Everett Kelley, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, a federal employee union representing about 700,00 feds and DC government workers, said in a statement about the announcement that the union was pleased with the email and that “the administration has done the right thing by listening to federal workers.”

The union had previously asked the White House to delay the mandate entirely until after the holiday season, as it did for a similar mandate for federal contractors.

This article first appeared on FCW.