FEDERAL EMPLOYEE COVID VACCINE UPDATES

By Tully Rinckey PLLC

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Federal Employee Vaccine Requirement

With the President signing an Executive Order that requires all federal employees and contractors to be vaccinated against COVID-19, many employees are concerned about how this will affect them and any previous agreement with their employer. While federal law does not prohibit requiring vaccines, it is important to know your rights and what options you have to challenge the COVID-19 mandate.

What Options do Federal Employees Have?

Unfortunately, due to the concerns of the continued spread of COVID-19 and a highly contagious Delta variant spreading, there are not as many options for federal employees to outright refuse this mandate. That being said, there are different protections and exclusions acknowledged by the federal government for employees whose health or well-being would be directly threatened by receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. However, even with these protections in place, you may still find yourself being denied your rights to certain accommodations or exclusions.

If you have suffered due to your refusal to participate in the governmentwide vaccine mandate due to a preexisting protected condition, we are here to help. There are plenty of ways to build a case around your protected rights and knowing what your rights are is crucial for finding success.

Religious Exclusion

Federal employees shouldn’t be thrust into the uncomfortable position of choosing their job over their personal beliefs. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, an employee with a “sincerely held religious belief” has the right to be free from workplace discrimination. As part of their beliefs, they are allowed to object to a vaccine.

Should an employer acknowledge the sincerely held beliefs, they will have no choice but to work with the employee in question to develop a reasonable solution. This can extend to the modification of some work duties, allowing the employee to work from home, or implementing certain social distancing policies. While it is encouraged to have an open dialog about any accommodations and exclusions, as long as an employer offers a solution that successfully solves the issues presented, the employee would have no right to pick and choose what is being offered.

The only right an employer would have to deny such a request would be if they could prove that the beliefs were not sincerely held or if offering any such accommodation would be to be too costly or difficult. This is commonly referred to as proving an “undue hardship.”

If you believe that you are a victim of unlawful discrimination based on your religious beliefs, you should reach out to our team of federal employment attorneys today. Tully Rinckey has the knowledge and background to make sure your rights are being fully protected.

Disability Exclusions

With over 61 million Americans having a registered disability, the federal sector has many protections in place to help those with disabilities continue to work. Under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, if an employee notifies their employer of a preexisting disability that prevents them from safely receiving a COVID-19 vaccination, the burden shift to the agency to provide an accommodation and/or safe alternative for them while they continue to work. Unless the agency can prove that any accommodations would prove an “undue hardship” or pose a “direct threat” to its employees or general public, they would have no right to deny a disability-based vaccine exemption.

Examples of certain accommodations could be allowing them to work from home, setting new masking requirements, or adjusting an employee’s schedule. As long as the accommodations would offer a safe alternative to continue working, an employee would have no right to pick and choose what accommodations they would receive.

Tully Rinckey attorneys have extensive experience representing both private and public sector clients who have been subjected to or are accused of unlawful employment discrimination based on their disability status.

Medical Exclusions

Choosing personal health over their career is a choice no federal employee should ever have to face. However, following the vaccine mandate, many federal employees with conditions that may worsen upon taking the vaccine have been forced to make this decision. Some common examples that might justify a medical exemption may include having an allergic reaction to the vaccine components or having some sort of weakened immune system.

While not every medical condition qualifies as a disability, employees may still be protected under the ADA when requesting an exemption on a medical basis. Employers may ask for limited health information (such as a doctor’s note) when establishing if your reasoning qualifies. Should they qualify, employers would be prompted to have a discussion with the individual about what accommodations they can offer them so that they can continue to work safely. This may include offering remote work, initiating a transfer, or modifying social distancing policies.

Legal Ramifications

Many employees, unions, and organizations across the country have spoken out against the vaccine mandate and have expressed their concerns with choosing their career over their personal health. Even unions that have Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs) established around receiving a vaccine will most likely have to renegotiate to include the provision. However, it is entirely dependent on the specific union and how the CBA is drafted. This issue will certainly be challenged in court, and expect that your policies and procedures may change at any given notice.

That being said, it is even more crucial that you know what your rights are and how your agency and/or unions are going to handle their policies surrounding the vaccine going forward to avoid facing any unexpected consequences. The consequences for disobeying your agency’s policies can range from simple fines to demotion or termination. So, to best protect your career and well-being, consider consulting with an experienced legal counsel today to discuss your options.

Recent Developments

Since the vaccine mandate announcement, Tully Rinckey’ federal employment law attorneys have been providing commentary to news and media outlets across the country. Please see the news stories and articles below featuring our attorneys:

Federal Employee Vaccine News

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Ready to speak with a Federal Employment Attorney?

As one of the nation’s largest federal sector labor and employment law firms, Tully Rinckey attorneys have decades of experience assisting federal employees with their legal issues, and protecting the rights of employees in their fight against the federal government. 

If you have issues taking the mandatory COVID-19 vaccine, you do have options, and our team of Federal Employment Law attorneys is here to assist you every step of the way.