On September 9th, 2021, President Biden issued an executive order that requires all federal employees to be fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 pandemic. NTEU has been closely monitoring the mandate and working with the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force to ensure that employees get the information they need. There are still many questions, and we will keep you updated with the information as it comes to us.
NTEU National recently sent out two one-page guidelines outlining what we currently know regarding the reasonable accommodation process. Employees are expected to follow the current IRS guidelines regarding Reasonable Accommodations, or RAs. But how do you do that? We’ll break it down for you!
If you have a legitimate medical reason for vaccine exemption, the first step is to speak with your primary care physician. You must have a statement from them that identifies your medical condition, explains how or why the condition prevents you from receiving the vaccine, and identifies potential accommodations that are low-impact for the agency. You will need to print off and fill out the Reasonable Accommodation Form SF13661, and bring it to your healthcare provider. Your provider will need to fill out all of Section III. These accommodations can include but are not limited to wearing masks, social distancing, teleworking, regularly testing for COVID-19, or changing shifts. Please be aware: you will not be allowed to submit to regular testing in place of receiving a vaccination unless you have a medical reason or religious objection.
Once you have fully filled out form SF13661, you will need to email this completed form to RA.Form.firstname.lastname@example.org. We also suggest submitting a copy of the form or a note that you have applied for a Reasonable Accommodation to your manager. Letting your manager know that you are requesting a Reasonable Accommodation will help to protect you while you’re waiting for a decision to be made. The submitted form will follow the pipeline and either be approved or denied. If your RA request is denied, contact NTEU immediately. It is imperative that any RA denials be addressed quickly. We will advise you to the best of our ability from there.
Next, we’ll cover religious objections.
Religious objections are likely going to be the more challenging Reasonable Accommodations to navigate. Please note that sincerely held religious beliefs are different from personal beliefs, and based on what we know, there appear to be very few organized religious that prohibit vaccinations. While no further details have been released, we do know that some sort of documentation will likely be required that proves the sincerity and religious nature of your belief and why it specifically prevents you from being vaccinated.
From there, the procedures will be the same as they are for the medical exemption except the email the forms must be sent to. You will submit form SF13661 to email@example.com. We do still recommend giving a copy or a supplemental note to your manager to further protect you while you await a response. If the request is denied, contact NTEU immediately.
Additionally, on October 1st, NTEU National received further information on possible discipline if employees do not comply with the executive order. Agencies have been advised to work with employees to encourage vaccinations, and released guidelines for disciplinary actions.
As described above, employees that fail to become fully vaccinated by the deadline of November 22nd without a reasonable accommodation or request in progress will be considered to have failed to comply with a lawful order. The first step will be a five-day education and counseling about the COVID-19 vaccine. If the initial steps to get vaccinated are still refused, it has been suggested that agencies propose a suspension of 14 days or fewer. However, if the employee takes the first steps to become compliant and vaccinated, this suspension should be postponed while the employee gets vaccinated. If employees do not get vaccinated, the Task Force has suggested that employees do not be placed on administrative leave while the agency is acting, and will be expected to continue to wear a mask and social distance. If the employee continues to refuse, removal is suggested.
Many employees have had questions regarding antibody tests and previous diagnoses of COVID-19 as valid exemptions. Neither antibody tests nor a previous diagnosis of COVID-19 with qualify as exemptions from the vaccine. The executive order requires employees to be fully vaccinated unless there has been an approved reasonable accommodation for medical or religious reasons.
We know that employees have differing views on the mandate, and we are not endorsing it. We do not want the information we pass on to you to be taken as an endorsement or implied approval of the mandate. Rest assured, we will provide you with any updated information we get as soon as we get it.
If you have any other questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our office at (816)499-4496, or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.