White House considering making vaccinations mandatory for federal contractors

Even as some of the mask mandates and social distancing rules are being lifted, the governmental push for higher vaccination rates continues at every level. When it comes to the federal government, a COVID vaccination still isn’t mandatory. At least not yet. But that may be about to change, particularly when it comes to civilian contractors who have contracts with the government. They still may not be able to force you to get a vaccination, but they can let you know that you’ll be unemployed if you choose not to get one. And when it comes to blackmailing schemes, that’s just about one of the most effective ones I could imagine. (Government Executive)

As more Americans are getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and start to think about returning to workplaces, there is much debate over how, if at all, employers can or should require inoculations. Federal contractors are among those grappling with such questions.

While the federal government is not requiring vaccines for individuals, it has a history, dating back to the 1960s, of conditioning “contract awards on contractor compliance with emerging social policy mandates,” wrote Brooke Iley, a partner for labor and employment law at the firm Blank Rome LLP, and Albert Krachman, a partner for government contracts at the firm, in a March post. Therefore, “do not be surprised if, before the end of 2021” there is some type of requirement.

Iley and Krachman said that issuing an executive order on this would be “clearly within the administration’s wheelhouse and target zone;” however, there still could be some confusion and issues even with an order.

The federal government is required by law to publish a list of all of the contractors they do business with. There are literally hundreds of companies with prime contracts and thousands of subcontractors below them. The number of Americans employed by these firms is in the tens of millions. And with one swipe of his pen, Joe Biden could ensure that each and every one of those workers would be informed that they will need to bring in proof of vaccination or get ready to receive their walking papers.

There might be some exemptions offered, perhaps for those with underlying medical conditions that make the vaccine problematic or possibly even religious objections. But for the most part, if this rule goes into effect, you’re going to have to sign up for a vaccination or look for a new job. That may not technically be the same thing as a federal mandate for everyone to do it, but it’s not far off.

One spokesperson for the Department of Labor is already voicing skepticism. Writing guidelines for how such a mandate could be consistently enforced across all contractors is going to be a challenge. Enforcement itself is also seen as problematic. But more than anything else, the use of fake CDC cards has them worried. There is no federal database of vaccinated citizens, as we’ve discussed here before. But there is a database of employees of companies with contracts. If you produce a fake CDC card and they put a check by your name, you’re in the system and are probably unlikely to be detected if they don’t catch you at the outset. And what sort of fair system could be implemented if it’s that easy to con them?

This may not happen overnight, however. The current understanding of the applicable laws suggests that the vaccines can’t be made mandatory for anyone while they are still being distributed under FDA emergency authorization. But once final authorization has been issued, that will change. And that’s going to be happening sooner or later. So if you happen to work for a federal contractor or subcontractor, make your plans accordingly.