Feds Relax COVID-19-Related Requirements for Employees, Contractors and Job Applicants

September 2, 2022
The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford

Vaccination card

On August 17, 2022, the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force (the “Task Force”) issued updated guidance regarding COVID-19 vaccination, testing and masking requirements for federal employees and contractors. The Task Force’s guidance is based on the latest recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which significantly relax the standards for preventing transmission of the disease.

As the Task Force explains in its August 17 guidance, “Pursuant to Section 2(a) of Executive Order (EO) 13991 . . . executive agencies must follow CDC guidance for mask-wearing, maintaining physical distance, and adhering to other public health measures. Independent agencies are strongly encouraged to comply with the requirements of EO 13991.” Thus, the CDC’s recommendations play a significant role in determining what federal agencies can require of their employees and contractors. The CDC currently distinguishes between geographic areas with “low,” “medium” and “high” levels of COVID-19 transmission (referred to as “Community Levels”), with different standards and procedures applying in some (but not all) cases.

Current COVID-19 Vaccination, Testing and Masking Rules for Federal Employees and Contractors (as of August 17, 2022)

The Task Force’s August 17 guidance makes several significant changes to the COVID-19 vaccination, testing and masking rules for federal employees and contractors. Most significantly, it requires most federal employers to cease collecting information about employees’ and job candidates’ vaccination status:

“As soon as possible and no later than Monday, August 22, 2022, to be consistent with Task Force guidance, agencies should pause requiring or requesting employees and potential employees to provide information about their COVID-19 vaccination status regardless of COVID-19 Community Levels, where COVID-19 safety protocols do not vary based on vaccination status.”

The Task Force’s guidance goes on to state that “for most Federal workplaces, COVID-19 workplace safety protocols will not vary based on vaccination status or otherwise depend on vaccination information.” It also provides similar instructions for federal contractors. As a result, as of August 22, the substantial majority of federal employees, contractors and job candidates will be entitled to keep their COVID-19 vaccination status private if they choose to do so.

Other vaccination and masking rules for federal employees and contractors modified by the Task Force’s August 17 guidance include:

  • Masking is now only required for federal employees working in areas with high COVID-19 Community Levels.
  • Serial screening and point-in-time screening may only be required for federal employees working in areas with medium or high COVID-19 Community Levels.
  • In all geographic areas, federal agencies must instruct individuals with known COVID-19 exposure to wear a mask or take other precautionary measures for 10 days after exposure and to get tested at least 5 days after exposure.

Other pre-existing protocols remain in effect, including the requirement for symptom screening self-checks for all individuals prior to entering federal facilities. Isolation protocols for federal employees with “probable or confirmed COVID-19” remain in place in all geographic areas as well. However, in the absence of “probable or confirmed COVID-19,” the Task Force’s August 18 guidance provides that “agencies must no longer require that individuals who are not up to date with COVID-19 vaccines and who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 do not enter Federal facilities or do not interact with members of the public in person as part of their official responsibilities for at least 5 full days.”

What Are Your Legal Rights if a Federal Agency Improperly Imposes COVID-19 Restrictions or Requirements?

Let’s say you are a federal employee or job applicant, and a federal agency improperly asks for confirmation of your COVID-19 vaccination status. In this scenario, what are your legal rights?

If a federal employer improperly requests information about your COVID-19 vaccination status, you may have a claim for discrimination—especially if you are denied an employment or advancement opportunity based on your refusal to disclose your vaccination status or your decision not to get vaccinated. The same would be true if a federal employer improperly requested information about your exposure to COVID-19 or the results of any tests you may have taken. Multiple laws protect federal employees, contractors and job applicants against discrimination based on their health status, and violations of these laws will often entitle employees, contractors and job applicants to financial compensation and other remedies.

Request a Confidential Consultation about Your Legal Rights

If you have questions about your legal rights as a federal employee, contractor or job applicant, we encourage you to contact us for a confidential initial consultation. To schedule an appointment at your convenience, please contact the legal team at the Law Firm of J.W. Stafford, LLC at 410-514-6099 or tell us how we can reach you online today.