On November 1, the Biden administration’s Safer Federal Workforce Task Force released updated guidance clarifying that federal contractors will be responsible for enforcing compliance with the previously released COVID-19 workplace safety protocols for federal contractors and subcontractors. The protocols required all covered contractor employees be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by January 4, 2022, unless they are legally entitled to an accommodation. The new guidance released by the Task Force outlines the steps covered contractors should take if an employee refuses to be vaccinated and what actions a federal agency should take if a covered contractor does not comply with the safety protocols.
Initially published on September 24, the Task Force’s COVID-19 safety guidance was released under the direction of President Biden’s Executive Order 14042, “Ensuring Adequate COVID Safety Protocols for Federal Contractors,” which instructs federal agencies to require contractors and subcontractors to comply with specific COVID-19 workplace safety protocols.
According to the recently updated guidance, covered contractors “should determine the appropriate means of enforcement” if a covered contractor employee refuses to be vaccinated and has not requested or been granted an accommodation. Such enforcement can take the form of standard workplace compliance protocols, as outlined in the contractor’s employee handbook or collective bargaining agreements. Additionally, contractors can utilize the enforcement model currently employed by federal agencies, which primarily encourages compliance and then disciplinary measures, if required. Only after a period of noncompliance would an employee be fired.
Additionally, while the guidance places covered contractors in charge of ensuring compliance, the contracting agency is expected to work with them if there are any difficulties enforcing the workplace safety protocols. However, if the covered contractor does not take action to comply with the protocols, the guidance instructs the contracting agency to take “significant actions,” including termination of the contract.
The updated guidance issued by the Task Force is particularly relevant for counties who may be considered covered contractors or working to support local businesses that are considered federal contractors or subcontractors. For more information on federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates and safety protocols for employers, please see NACo’s Employer COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate FAQ.