ALEXANDRIA, Va.—The mandate that requires all federal employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Dec. 8 includes some flexibility, according to comments from the White House, reports Reuters. The comments suggest that federal contractors will not have to fire employees immediately if they are not vaccinated. Instead, they have time to educate and counsel them, as well as other measures to take.
"We’re creating flexibility within the system … There is not a cliff here," Jeff Zients, counselor to President Joe Biden said. "These processes play out across weeks not days."
In September, President Biden announced a sweeping vaccine mandate for federal employees and contractors, plus companies with more than 100 employees as part of a White House action plan to address the latest rise in COVID-19 cases in the United States.
Zients also said a new emergency measure will soon be finalized to ensure private sector workers at companies with 100 or more employees are fully vaccinated or tested for COVID-19 at least weekly.
Many big companies have already set a vaccine mandate ahead of an official Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) ruling, but some companies are running into issues with labor due to a mandate. American Airlines is requiring all employees to be vaccinated by Nov. 24. Alaska, JetBlue and Southwest also have mandated the vaccine for workers. Many feared a huge walkout of unvaccinated airline or government employees involved in travel just before the busy holiday travel season.
"We want our employees to know that nobody is going to lose their job on December 9 if we're not perfectly in compliance ... We're not going to fire anybody who doesn't get vaccinated,” said Southwest Airlines Chief Executive Gary Kelly.
A group representing FedEx and UPS and other cargo carriers told the White House last week it would be virtually impossible to have 100% of their respective work forces vaccinated by Dec. 8.
In the foodservice industry, Sweetgreen said in its go-public documents this week that it is having “significant challenges” getting workers to submit proof of vaccination, which could lead to widespread layoffs, staffing shortages and potential restaurant closures, reports Restaurant Business.
The forced check of vaccination status for customers who chose to eat inside Sweetgreen could also lead to “customer frustration and increased labor costs,” the chain noted.
Though the OSHA ruling may be near, some states could push off the vaccine mandate for years. Twenty-six states write their own workplace safety and health rules, and it could take OSHA a long time to force states to update their rules.
Recently, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) updated its technical guidance on when companies must exempt employees from COVID-19 vaccine mandates for religious reasons. The EEOC said that companies should assume that workers' professed religious beliefs are sincere, but they can ask for more information from the employee in a limited manner. An employee who fails to provide requested information risks losing any subsequent claim that the employer improperly denied an accommodation, the EEOC said.