Federal agencies won’t discipline employees who have not yet complied with an administration-wide vaccine mandate until at least January, the White House said on Monday, one week after a Nov. 22 deadline.
While the deadline remains the same, U.S. agencies are now in a period of “education and counseling” for the small number of employees who are not yet vaccinated against COVID-19, a spokesperson for the Office of Management and Budget said, and suspensions or firings likely won’t happen until the new year.
About 96.5% of federal employees have complied with the mandate, the OMB said.
“Nothing has changed with respect to our deadline or our approach to the federal employee vaccination requirement,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “We’ve also said the deadline is not a cliff and that our goal is to protect workers, not penalize anyone.”
About 3.5 million people work for the federal government across the U.S. and around the world, according to the White House.
Officials on Monday reiterated that the Nov. 22 deadline was not the final word on whether unvaccinated federal workers would be disciplined. A grace period to improve compliance was always planned, said press secretary Jen Psaki.
“That's long been our approach,” she said.
President Joe Biden first announced the vaccine mandate for federal workers in early September, after initially imposing restrictions in late July. Federal workers cannot opt out of vaccination with testing, but there are limited religious and medical exemptions.
The mandate is separate from a requirement for federal contractors, whose deadline is Jan. 4, and another requirement for businesses with 100 employees or more is on hold due to legal challenges.
Last week, the OMB released statistics about compliance within each agency. The departments of transportation and commerce were among those with the highest percentage of compliance at more than 99%, but nearly every agency was above 95% as of Nov. 24.
Compliance is defined as having at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine or having submitted an exception request.
A spokesperson for the OMB wrote Monday that they were seeing more federal workers continue to comply, even after last week’s deadline.
“At any point, if an employee gets their first shot or submits an exception request, agencies will pause further enforcement,” the office’s update from last week read.