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Now entering: Uncharted territory with the federal vaccine mandate

We’re slowly entering the implementation phase for the Biden administration’s federal vaccine mandate for employees and contractors, which seems to have sparked opinions, opinions and more opinions.

Almost no one seems truly happy about any of it.

I’ve gotten messages from readers who say they won’t feel safe at work until they can rest assured everyone is vaccinated. They want to see policies, a mandate, if you will, because they believe anything less creates an unsafe working environment and — perhaps inadvertently — supports those who choose not to be vaccinated.

Then, there’s the opposite mindset, and if you don’t know what I mean, I’d direct you to the comment section of any news site with a story or two about vaccines, including this one. They’re not happy about the federal vaccine mandate. They’re not happy with the people who wrote that latest executive order — or even those who simply wrote about it.

We’ve also heard a lot from those who support the concept of vaccines and perhaps even a mandate but are quite worried about how it’ll be implemented, you know, given the government’s track record implementing large-scale policies with consistency.

The Biden administration issued yet another round of guidance late last week about the federal vaccine mandate. It answered some questions about the new executive order and left some still unanswered — not a surprise when policy officials are trying to figure out how to implement and enforce something it’s never done before for 2.1 million people.

What have we learned so far?

Yes, the vaccine mandate covers teleworking feds, which isn’t so surprising since the EO said it applies to all executive branch employees.

No, the Postal Service isn’t an executive branch agency, but it seems to have its own vaccine policy brewing.

Prospective federal employees, those planning to join government service just before or after the Nov. 22. deadline, need to be fully vaccinated too, according to the Biden administration.

Now feds have to show proof of vaccination instead of simply attesting to their status, a change from the previous policy.

Those who don’t have an accepted medical or religious exemption and refuse to get vaccinated by the Nov. 22 deadline are subject to disciplinary action, which includes firing. Administration leave is apparently off the table for those dealing with an adverse action, a point that will surely raise a whole host of other questions.

Attorneys, federal employee associations and others have openly wondered whether federal workers will quit over the vaccine mandate.

Maybe those fears are overblown.

But it’s hypothetically possible, maybe especially so for a vaccine-resistant, retirement-eligible fed who refuses vaccination, doesn’t want to deal with the disciplinary process and can reasonably leave government (and the job market) anyway.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough recently told reporters he wasn’t sure what to expect with potential firings for those who refuse to comply with the vaccine mandate, but he said it’s the last thing he wants.

VA, as well as the other agencies with early vaccine mandates for health care workers, could be a test case for how it’ll play out among other feds. Employees at the Veterans Health Administration have until Oct. 8 to get vaccinated or request a medical or religious exemption. After that date, unvaccinated employees face the prospect of discipline.

The goal of the disciplinary process, McDonough said, is to get people vaccinated. It’s still too early to know whether that goal and reality will align with each other.

VHA typically reports thousands of vacancies each year, though it has had some success staffing up during the pandemic. It, along with most other federal agencies, can’t particularly afford to lose a ton of trained staff, though health care workers may have a difficult time finding another job in the industry that isn’t mandating COVID-19 vaccines.

The IRS, which is trying to staff up for the upcoming filing season and keep its head above water, can’t afford to lose employees either.

The Professional Managers Association is particularly worried about the prospect of retirement-eligible IRS employees refusing the vaccine and leaving the agency because of it.

“We hear from people who maybe were going to work eight or ten more years but are considering retirement instead of being vaccinated,” said Chad Hooper, PMA’s executive director. “That becomes a readiness issue. At the IRS, it’s actually a top of mind worry because the IRS workforce is older than the civil service on average.”

We’ve surveyed federal employees in the past about their retirement plans, and many cite a variety of factors that go inform their decisions. For most, financial readiness is the number one factor driving their decisions to stay or go. Others cite their happiness on the job, their health and family and their post-retirement plans.

Politics — as in who’s in the White House — usually isn’t the main factor driving too many feds into retirement, though it has been a factor for some.

What about the vaccine?

Well, I guess we’ve never asked, and it’ll be a while until we know for sure. This is new territory.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Alazar Moges

The reason a mosquito bite leaves a bump and itches is that the insect uses a special mouthpart called the proboscis to suck up blood and as it feeds it injects saliva into your skin. The human body reacts to the saliva by resulting in a bump and itching.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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