WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden announces strict new testing, masking and removal requirements for federal employees who cannot – or do not want to – show that they have been vaccinated against the coronavirus, with the goal of increasing sluggish vaccine numbers among millions of Americans. sign federal salaries and set an example for employers across the country.
Biden’s move for the federal government – by far the largest employer in the country – comes amid rising coronavirus numbers, driven by pockets of vaccine resistance and the more contagious delta variant. A number of large corporations and some local governments are setting new requirements on their own, but the administration feels that much more is needed.
However, back pressure is sure. The action puts Biden at the center of a heated political debate surrounding the government’s ability to force Americans to follow public health guidelines.
In an effort to soften the opposition, officials have been careful to emphasize that the move does not amount to a vaccine mandate, but imposes stricter restrictions on masking, testing, social distance and travel on federal employees to encourage them to be vaccinated to become.
This may work because evidence so far shows that workers would rather get the vaccine than handle burdens they consider heavy on their jobs, said Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University Law School.
“People would rather roll up their sleeves and get a jerk than test weekly and undergo universal masking,” he said. “In many ways, it really is not a mandate, it gives workers a choice.”
About 60% of American adults are fully vaccinated. Biden set a goal on July 4 to get at least one shot in 70% of adults, and is still not quite there. The latest figure is 69.3.
According to the Office of Personnel Management, the executive branch employed more than 2.7 million civilians by 2020, with some of the most important numbers in Republican-led southern states, including Texas and Florida, where there is still high vaccine resistance. .
But Thursday’s move is not just about federal workers.
The administration hopes it will push private enterprises to put their workers harder to get vaccinations that, although widely recognized as safe and effective, have not yet received the full approval of the Food and Drug Administration.
“I think we’ve reached this tipping point, and Biden’s announcement will provide a lot of air coverage for companies and boards that face difficult decisions,” said Jeff Hyman, a business writer and recruiter for Chicago in Chicago. up companies.
Andrew Challenger, senior vice president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a large workforce consulting firm, wants workers vaccinated.
“It’s a big risk over the head of every employer if there’s an outbreak at the office,” he said. “But so far, many employers have seen a stick instead of roots.”
Gostin agrees: ‘We begged, begged and vaccinated people to be vaccinated; we offered them incentives, and it’s clearly not working. ”
Some of the largest businesses in the country have relocated to require vaccination for their workers. The tech giants Facebook and Google announced this week that their employees must provide proof that they have been fully vaccinated before returning to work.
Delta and United Airlines require new employees to provide proof of vaccination. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley require workers to disclose their vaccination status, but they should not be vaccinated.
But less than 10% of employers said they plan to require all employees to be vaccinated, based on regular surveys by research firm Gartner.
The Biden administration hopes its guidance on federal workers will help change that by providing a model for state and local governments and private companies to follow as workers prepare to return to offices this fall.
Many companies, especially smaller businesses that are concerned about legal consequences, can take the lead as ‘justification for implementing similar policies,’ said Alexander Bick, associate professor of economics at WP Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.
Questions about the scope of the new policy remain.
The guidance is not expected to cover the military, but it is unclear whether it will cover federal contractors. The White House hopes that the announcement of the new guidelines will give the agencies enough time to draw up their own plans for implementation before workers return to their offices in full.
And there is already opposition.
U.S. lawmakers have introduced more than 100 bills aimed at banning employers from requiring vaccination as a condition of service, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy. At least six states have approved such accounts.
The Department of Justice and the Federal Commission for Equal Employment Opportunity have both said no federal laws prevent companies from requiring vaccinations as a condition of employment, and federal policy will set a precedent. But the ‘medical freedom’ bills emphasize the resistance that such state-level guidelines can experience.
Government action in New York and California has already met with opposition from local unions. And before Biden’s announcement, some national unions had spoken out against it.
Brian Rothenberg, spokesman for the 397,000-member United Auto Workers, said the union encourages workers to be vaccinated, but is against the requirements because some people have religious or health problems.
Larry Cosme, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Association, which represents 30,000 federal officials and agents, said in a statement that while the organization supports the vaccine, he is opposed to it.
“Forcing people to undertake a medical procedure is not the American way and it is a clear violation of civil rights, no matter how advocates may justify it,” he said.