It has been over a month since Judge Jeffrey Brown of the U.S. Court for the Southern District of Texas issued an injunction on President Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate (Executive Order 14043). With the injunction in place, many agencies have adjusted their hiring policies and requirements.
A notable hiring change resulting from the injunction is that according to Task Force guidance, agencies need to reissue any job offer letters that were previously sent with reference to an employee’s vaccination status as part of the conditions of employment. Along with the reissuing of offer letters, agencies have been advised to update current job listings to remove any mention of a COVID-19 vaccination requirement. These measures will remain in effect while the injunction is active, so any employee who has been hired or transferred to a new role during the injunction is not required to be fully vaccinated or required to submit an accommodation/exemption request as a condition of employment.
Agencies can still ask employees or newly hired employees for proof of vaccination, so long as they do not face any sort of punishment or preferential treatment. Agencies may use this information to implement safety protocols such as social distancing, masking, testing, travel protocols, etc. Even while the federal injunction is in place, employees must still follow the specific COVID safety guidelines established by their agency. Failure to follow these safety protocols could result in disciplinary action.
Some agencies have safety protocols that predated the Executive Order and will remain in effect despite the injunction. Examples include the Veterans Health Administration and the Health and Human Services Department. For others, the injunction and most up-to-date Task Force guidance signals that COVID policies, requirements, and hiring processes are heading back to the way things were run prior to the Executive Order.
For federal contractors, this could change depending on the outcome of the oral arguments at the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals currently scheduled for April 8th. This appeal would have a direct impact on the enforceability of Executive Order 14042 related to the vaccine mandate for federal contractors. No court ruling thus far, including the injunction, has found that the Executive Orders on vaccine mandates are unconstitutional. If an appeal is successful related to the injunction, pre-injunction hiring processes and guidance to applicants for federal job openings would be put back in place.
Federal employees and those looking to join the federal workforce should remain in contact with their agencies or prospective agencies to remain apprised of any new policies or requirements for employment. Guidance in this respect is consistently changing and communication with the agency is best so the employee can be kept up to date. If you have additional questions about how the injunction will affect your career or employment opportunities, our team of attorneys are available to assist you today.