Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccinations for Federal Contractors/Subcontractors

 

THIS IS IMPORTANT.  Please make sure you read this – get a beverage of your choice (something strong is suggested), put on some soothing music, and continue…

 

Beginning December 8, 2021, ALL federal contractors/subcontractors must begin adhering to the Workplace Safety Guidance for Federal Contractors and Subcontractors.  In addition to the mandatory inclusion of flow-down clause requiring compliance, employers are required to follow the following key requirements:

  1. Mandatory vaccination policies requiring full vaccination for employees of covered federal contractors by December 8, with limited exceptions for those legally entitled to an accommodation (prior COVID-19 infection or antibody tests are not accepted as substitutes);

    • Employers are required to show that a designated person(s) is responsible for maintaining the safety plan/program and confidential information – please let me help you set up your program

  2. Mask and physical distancing requirements at covered contractor worksites (including for employees, visitors and others); and

  3. A requirement that contractors designate a person or persons to coordinate COVID-19 workplace safety efforts at their workplaces

 

Note that the verbiage of the Executive Order states “covered federal contractors” as opposed to “covered federal contracts.”  This will be important later on.  The language that you actually care about in this Executive Order is as follows:

 

  • “All covered contractor employees, including those who previously had COVID-19 and including those who work outside, work remotely, office staff, and all employees who work in connection with federal contracts, must be fully vaccinated for COVID-19, unless the employee is legally entitled to an accommodation for a disability (including medical conditions) or sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance.”

 

I interpret this terrible wording to mean that YES, all federal contractor/subcontractor employees must be FULLY vaccinated by December 8, 2021 with the last dose taken no later than November 24, 2021; and, YES – this means all employees in common-owned federal contractor/subcontractor businesses must be vaccinated.  There is a limited exception for agency leaders to approve a 60-day exception for “urgent, mission-critical need” for an employee to begin work on a contract or at a worksite before becoming fully vaccinated, but you will need to be prepared to prove the need for the exception (no official guidance on what constitutes an emergency, but we can talk it through).  Finally, YES – we must ask applicants if they are fully vaccinated (WE CAN ADD THIS TO THE JOB APPLICATION IF YOU WISH).  This must also become part of your mandatory COVID safety program.

 

Which Federal Contractors/Subcontractors are covered?

 

  • In order to be covered under this mandate, the contract in question (or non-grant “contract-like instruments,” including, but not limited to, a purchase order, basic ordering agreement, letter agreement, bi-lateral options exercise, etc.) must be performed in the United States AND must be a:

    • Procurement contract for construction covered by the Davis Bacon Act

    • Contract for services or concessions under the Service Contract Act

    • Contract in connection with federal contracts or land offering services to federal employees, their dependents, or the general public

 

Religious and Medical Exemptions

 

Please be very careful when approaching your employees who assert that they have a religious or medical exemption.

 

Anyone claiming a medical exemption MUST PROVIDE a note from a health care provider.  Furthermore, we may be required to accommodate medical exemptions including, (but not limited to) working remotely; changing positions and/or schedules, etc. depending on whether or not their exemption creates a health concern for those individuals who are not vaccinated.  We may also learn other medical conditions that we are required to accommodate along the way (the need to approve or deny FMLA,

 

Note that the religious exemption can be pulled at ANY TIME, and it will be YOUR CHOICE whether or not to permit this exemption.  We ARE permitted to ask questions about religious exemptions (what is the name of the religion, how often do you attend services, etc.).  WE get to determine if the exemption is “sincerely held” (which is nuts given that we cannot do this for any other reason).  We do not HAVE to ask these questions. 

 

I know that telling our employees that a religious exemption is a “way out” of the requirement, but please be careful – this can backfire terribly.  This Executive Order is being overseen by a task force which can ultimately decide that religious exemptions create an “undue hardship” to organizations and therefore, obliterate this loophole.  For example, IF you have too many people claiming a religious exemption, creating an unsafe work environment for those employees who refuse to get the vaccination (they are more susceptible to infection due to their non-vaccinated states), then we will not be permitted to keep those employees on our payroll. 

 

Finally, know that however you handle these exemption request sets precedence for how we handle disabilities and accommodations.  As with all employment laws and regulations, what we do for one, we do for all in similar situations.

 

Enforcement?

 

OSHA will enforce these rules.  For those of you that have had the pleasure of an OSHA visit, you know this is not good news.  Penalties for noncompliance include monetary fines AND debarment from continuing to work on federal contracts (now and 1-5 years in the future).

 

What makes me a federal contractor/federal subcontractor?

 

Remember that YOU are a federal contractor/federal subcontractor if you do work for federal contractors/federal subcontractors REGARDLESS of the job you are working on. For example, if Bob’s Barns and Hay received a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan to complete all or a portion of a project, you are now a federal contractor/subcontractor.  The PPP loans have also created some potential federal contractor/subcontractor exposure.  So, if you are in doubt about whether or not you are a federal contractor/federal subcontractor, look back on your contracts – IF you receive ANYTHING that indicates “Executive Order 11246” or “Section 503,” or if you receive information from the GC that talks about unions and EEO obligations, and/or you have active certified payroll, you are more likely than not to be a federal contractor/subcontractor. 

 

What do I do next?

 

  1. Determine if you are a federal contractor or federal subcontractor

  2. Assemble the team you want to oversee this process – make sure that all team members have been fully trained on what they can and cannot say; that they completely understand the requirements of this Order, and that they support company initiatives even when they decisions unpopular

  3. Prepare your policies

  4. Document your discussions, signatures, and questions from each employee – the devil will be in the details

  5. ASK FOR HELP

 

I know that we are all afraid of how many employees we will lose – but if done right, this does not have to be an issue.  Employees who are terminated for refusing to get vaccinated are NOT eligible for Unemployment.  This does NOT mean we will not have to attend hearings to fight the claims – we will be doing a lot of that. 

 

I also know how unpopular this Order is, but I promise that it is much better to strive for compliance on this issue.  You are NOT ALONE. As always, I am here to help.  I have assembled special program pricing for this initiative, so please feel free to reach out to get more information or ask for assistance.