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Federal workers who don't meet vaccine mandate won't face discipline until January
Federal workers who do not comply with the Biden administration's coronavirus vaccine requirement will not face serious penalties such as suspension or removal until January.
The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on Monday directed federal agencies to engage in education and counseling of workers who have not met the vaccine requirement through the holiday season, with further enforcement actions put off until next year.
"Given that tremendous progress, 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," OMB Deputy Director for Management Jason Miller and Office of Personnel Management Director Kiran Ahuja wrote in an email to agencies obtained by The Hill.
The deadline for federal workers to comply with the mandate was Nov. 22, though White House officials had made clear that federal employees who were not compliant would not be immediately reprimanded after the deadline. Officials had not set out a specific timeline for enforcement actions until Monday.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki disputed the notion that the timeline represented a delay during a briefing on Monday afternoon.
"Nothing has changed on our deadline or our approach to the federal employee vaccine requirement," Psaki told reporters.
The White House said last week that 92 percent of federal government workers have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 4.5 percent are in compliance with the mandate because they have a pending or approved exemption request, bringing the total to 96.5 percent in compliance with the mandate President Biden announced in September.
"We have been clear that the goal of the Federal employee vaccination requirement is to protect Federal workers, not to punish them," Miller and Ahuja wrote on Monday. "Last week's deadline was not an endpoint or a cliff. We are continuing to see more and more Federal employees getting their shots."
The largest union representing federal government employees, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), praised the White House's timeline in a statement on Monday.
"The administration has done the right thing by listening to federal workers, taking their concerns seriously, and giving those who haven't yet gotten vaccinated some peace of mind this holiday season," said AFGE President Everett Kelley. "While we applaud the policy that defers suspensions and removals, we continue to encourage all our members who are able to obtain one of the FDA-approved anti-COVID vaccines as soon as they possibly can."