COVID-19 vaccine mandates have been a hot topic since this summer, when President Biden announced new vaccine guidelines for the federal workforce in late July. While these guidelines did not mandate vaccines, they did implement strict masking and testing requirements for those federal employees and onsite contractors opting not to get the jab.
What a difference a month and a half makes; on Thursday, September 9th the Biden Administration announced sweeping changes to COVID vaccine mandates for both federal employees and government contractors in response to the ongoing surge of Delta variant cases.
Vaccine Mandates Have a Precedent
While many argue that vaccine mandates contradict the principles of freedom upon which our nation was founded, there are precedents for these mandates dating as far back as the American Revolution.
General George Washington ordered a mass inoculation of the Continental Army in 1777 which was successful in preventing breakouts of smallpox among the troops. In 1905, The Supreme Court ruled that the City of Cambridge (MA) could fine residents who refused to receive the smallpox vaccine in an effort to protect citizens.
There is a growing sentiment that “freedom” in our country is not binary, rather it is a concept that is fluid and dependent upon individual citizens conducting themselves in a manner that places the good of society above the desires of the individual.
This concept is a reason why all citizens traveling via air must follow the strict guidelines implemented by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, with no exceptions.
Risk managers at companies abide by this principle of “society first,” hence the establishment of company-wide protocols such as adherence to cybersecurity hygiene, employee conduct guidelines, and other measures enacted to ensure safety for all employees.
Vaccines and the Future for Government Contractors
Federal government contractors operate under the guidelines of their powerful client. Whether it be following Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) requirements or adapting to changing diversity & inclusion training protocols, risk managers at government contractors are under constant pressure to remain in compliance.
The new vaccine mandate imposed by the Biden Administration will require government contractors to become vaccine compliant for contracts entered on or after October 15, 2021, and will apply to locations “in which an individual is working on or in connection with a Federal Government Contract.”
Risk managers working for government contractors can expect more guidance from the federal government in the days to come, including updates on “ramp up periods” detailing when the government contracting workforce needs to hit certain vaccination milestones.
While there is currently no national system whereby the federal government can track and enforce the vaccine status of the government contracting workforce, there are actions that risk managers can take to prepare for the future:
- Determine what federal government contracts will commence on or after December 8th, 2021, after which date employees of most federal contractors must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
- Work with internal legal counsel and human resources to compose an employee questionnaire in preparation for an impending “vaccination census.” This questionnaire should also inquire as to existing medical conditions or religious beliefs that could preclude vaccination requirements for certain employees. Contracts already in force will also face vaccine mandate guidelines, so risk managers should prepare a questionnaire regardless of contract status.
- Ensure employees have easy access to COVID-19 vaccination information (such as locations where vaccines are administered) on the employee human resources portal.
- Schedule a webinar where employees can listen to a medical professional discuss the COVID-19 vaccine and answer any questions (either live or confidentially). Your health insurance provider or insurance broker/external risk manager can assist with finding medical professionals if needed.
- Provide flexible paid time off policies such that employees can easily schedule vaccine appointments.
- Revisit your Directors & Officers and Employment Practices Liability Insurance policies to ensure your company is properly protected from claims made by employees protesting vaccine mandates.
These 6 guidelines are steps risk managers can take now to prepare for the tenuous weeks ahead. While the future remains uncertain, what is certain is that government contractors must meet more stringent vaccine requirements to remain competitive.