Compliance News | November 2, 2021

COVID-19 Safeguard Requirements for Federal Contractors

The White House’s Safer Federal Workforce Task Force has published guidance for federal contractors and subcontractors that implements President Biden’s directive ordering more workers to get vaccinated. The guidance applies to new federal contracts entered into on or after October 15, 2021.

Mechanics Fixing A Helicopter While Wearing A Facemasks

This summary of the guidance updates our September 29, 2021 insight to reflect additional guidance for federal contractors that the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force released on November 1, 2021.

Background

President Biden’s Executive Order 14042, Ensuring Adequate COVID Safety Protocols for Federal Contractors, directed that employers contracting with the federal government provide adequate COVID-19 safeguards to their employees performing federal contract work.

In addition to the requirements for federal contractors and federal employees, President Biden directed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to develop a rule that will require all private sector employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated or require any workers who remain unvaccinated to produce a negative test result on at least a weekly basis before coming to work.

The guidance for federal contractors

Under the guidance, employers that are federal contractors must:

  • Ensure their covered contractor employees have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19 no later than December 8, 2021, except in limited circumstances where an employee is legally entitled to an accommodation because of a disability or sincerely held religious belief.
  • Comply with masking and physical distancing guidance while in covered contractor workplaces for both employees and visitors.
  • Designate a COVID-19 workplace safety effort coordinator.

Covered contracts include contractors and subcontractors that provide services to the federal government, with limited exceptions.

As noted above, generally, the requirements will be applicable to new federal contracts entered into on or after October 15, 2021. They will also apply to extended or renewed existing contracts.

The Guidance includes detailed FAQs providing implementation assistance.

Vaccination requirement

Employees can demonstrate proof of vaccination with a copy of one of the following documents:

  • The record of immunization from a healthcare provider or pharmacy
  • The COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card
  • Medical records documenting the vaccination
  • Immunization records from a public health or state immunization information system
  • Any other official documentation verifying vaccination with information on the vaccine name, date(s) of administration and the name of healthcare professional or clinic site administering vaccine

If a contractor can access an employee’s vaccination documentation, consistent with relevant privacy laws, the contractor does not need to require the employee to show or provide documentation.

While a digital record is permissible, merely attesting to vaccination status by the employee is not. Employers are urged to apply these standards to their business partners as well.

The vaccination requirement does not provide a testing alternative that would permit employees to be tested instead of becoming fully vaccinated.

Masking and social distancing requirements

Masking and social distancing guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control must be followed. In areas of high or substantial community transmission, fully vaccinated people must generally wear a mask in indoor settings. Individuals who are not fully vaccinated must wear a mask indoors and in certain outdoor settings regardless of the level of community transmission in the area. An accommodation must also be offered to those who cannot wear a mask because of a disability or sincerely held religious belief.

The federal agency will determine the workplace safety protocols that individuals who are not fully vaccinated must follow at the agency.

Enforcement

If an employee refuses to be vaccinated and does not have an accommodation or a pending request for an accommodation, the contractor should determine the appropriate means of enforcement.

If a contractor that is working in good faith encounters challenges with compliance with COVID-19 workplace safety protocols, the federal agency contracting officer should work with them to address these challenges. However, if a contractor is not taking steps to comply, significant actions, such as termination of the contract, should be taken.

Implementation challenges

The new federal directives will create many communication, compliance and implementation questions for employers that are federal contractors or subcontractors. This section notes some of the areas that will need attention quickly.

Determining workforce/employment implications

There are considerable workforce planning implications to this rule. Employers will need to understand and determine how their organization will navigate topics such as employee communications, helping employees obtain a vaccination, addressing remote work policies and documenting vaccination status. 

Technology and training to track vaccine status and/or manage testing

To comply with the vaccine mandate, employers will need to determine how they will track vaccine status and manage testing. The processes can be very time intensive but many existing Human Resources Information Systems (HRIS), benefits and workplace technology providers have already built functionality to allow for managing vaccine certifications.

Managing accommodations

Just as employers need to document the requirements, they will need to manage exceptions and determine how to make accommodations for employees who are not able to get the vaccine. Managing accommodations for vaccination is similar to managing those under the Americans with Disabilities Act, so employers should turn to their disability management experts to determine the best policy for their workplace.

All requests for accommodation do not need to be resolved by the contractor by the time employees begin work on a covered contract or at a covered workplace.

Managing time-off policies

Managing time-off needs will require a lot of coordination but time off may also be one of the best levers to ensure employees are comfortable that they can afford the time away from work to get vaccinated and deal with any potential side effects.

Many companies have already been giving employees time off to get vaccinated. They should review prior communications and policies to ensure compliance with the new federal rules as well as any state/local leave laws. Managers need to be well trained on time-off policies to prevent mixed messages. Employees should not feel pressure from direct managers to come to work if they are not feeling well or to delay getting vaccinated because of fear of missing a shift.

Training managers/supervisors, recruiters and workplace teams

Just as with time-off policies, HR business partners, managers and supervisors will need training on the new policies and procedures. This should not be a one-time training, but something that will need ongoing attention as new procedures and technology support are rolled out.

 

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This page is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, tax or investment advice. You are encouraged to discuss the issues raised here with your legal, tax and other advisors before determining how the issues apply to your specific situations.

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