Feds won’t enforce COVID-19 contractor vaccine mandate

Dive Brief:

  • The Biden administration will not enforce its mandate for federal contractors to be vaccinated against COVID-19, despite a recent ruling which blocked a previous injunction against it in half the states.
  • According to a post on the General Services Administration’s COVID-19 Safer Federal Workforce website, the federal government will take no action to implement or enforce Executive Order 14042, which was issued on Sept. 9, 2021 and required federal contractors to get the vaccine.
  • In order to comply with previous court rulings in ongoing litigation, the administration also said it wouldn’t enforce clauses in existing contracts to implement the requirements of the order “absent further written notice from the agency.”

Dive Insight:

The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals partially reinstated President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal contractors on Aug. 27, reversing a nationwide injunction levied by a federal judge in Georgia in December 2021.

In its ruling, the 11th Circuit said the injunction was too broad, and applied it only to plaintiffs in Georgia, six other states and members of the Associated Builders and Contractors, which sued to have the mandate blocked.

But that ruling, paired with litigation in other ongoing cases, effectively meant the vaccine mandate became valid again in 25 states. The administration’s guidance via its Safer Federal Workforce update now means federal contractors in those remaining states won’t need to be vaccinated, either, according to the National Electrical Contractors Association.

“Based on this decision by the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, all federal contractors, regardless of company location or association membership, should expect that the [Federal Acquisition Regulation] clause implementing the requirements of the Executive Order will not be included in future solicitations and contracts,” NECA wrote an update on its website.

The National Utility Contractors Association said the 11th Circuit’s ruling to narrow the injunction’s scope against the mandate is bound to cause confusion and further litigation. Instead, it called for the country’s highest court to address the case. 

“Our industry believes a nationwide injunction on Executive Order 14042 is needed for all companies working on federal contracts,” said Doug Carlson, NUCA CEO, in a Thursday statement. “If this case moves forward, a nationwide injunction on this ill-advised executive order should be immediately issued by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Construction workers have been among the most vaccine-hesitant of any employees. The industry’s vaccination rate is still under 55%, according to construction research and training institute CPWR, compared to 83% for all occupations.

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