The Department of Agriculture will require all federal employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19 by Nov. 22, except those who are “legally entitled to a reasonable or religious accommodation,” according to a workplace safety plan outlining the department's pandemic response.
Federal employees getting the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines need to get their first dose by Oct. 11 and Oct. 18, respectively, and their second doses by Nov. 8. Those who are getting the Johnson and Johnson vaccine must do so by Nov. 8.
The plan is a result of an executive order requiring vaccinations for federal employees President Joe Biden signed in September.
Employees who are fully vaccinated, but live in regions of the country with “high” or “substantial” transmission, and unvaccinated employees are required to wear masks.
According to the memo, employees seeking an exemption for either medical or religious reasons will need to submit requests by Oct. 18 to their Reasonable Accommodation and Religious Accommodation Coordinators, but the document also notes employees "may submit requests for an exception after this date."
The memo states that Federal employees who refuse to be vaccinated or provide proof of vaccination without an approved reasonable or religious accommodation will be subject to “disciplinary measures, up to and including removal from Federal service.” However, the agency said it will not pursue disciplinary measures for employees who have pending requests for accommodation related to the vaccine requirement.
Some have expressed concern the mandate could lead to staff reductions at USDA's county offices throughout the country.
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Addressing a question from Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., at a House Ag Committee hearing last week, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said he doesn’t foresee USDA’s COVID-19 plan causing local FSA offices to shut down and stop serving producers.
“I would anticipate and expect that we will do what we need to do to keep offices open,” Vilsack told lawmakers. “At the end of the day, we don't want to necessarily reduce the service to people that need the service. So I don't anticipate that we're actually gonna see a significant number of closed offices that would significantly reduce our capacity to serve farmers and ranchers in your state and other states.”
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