Special thanks to Maurice Bellan, Graham Cronogue and Sydney Hunemuller.
On September 9, 2021, President Biden issued Executive Order 14042 and related guidance, requiring most government contractors and subcontractors who contract with federal agencies to impose a COVID-19 vaccine mandate on their employees. In the intervening months, the scope and significance of Executive Order 14042 have continued to change. As we near the end of 2021, we expect these shifts to continue at least until January 2022, but likely well afterward. The following are some of the key areas where we have seen changes and expect to see more:
Timing: The enforcement deadline for vaccination has moved and may move again, especially in light of the multiple lawsuits surrounding its implementation, including the nationwide injunction which was issued December 8 and the potential congressional response (see infra) The original deadline for employee vaccination was December 8, 2021, but the current deadline for employees to be “fully vaccinated” has been moved to January 18, 2022. This additional time provides a small amount of breathing room for corporations, but it remains to be seen whether the extension will be enough or if more time will be allowed. Unless and until a new deadline is issued, it is wise to treat January 18 as the target date. However, compliance teams should be alert to any extensions that would allow for a smoother transition.
Agency-Specific Regulations: The scope of the mandates have increased, as certain agencies have applied the mandate to contractors that provide only products. The Executive Order and guidance carved out contractors who solely provided products. However, the guidance left the door open for agencies to impose their own wider-reaching requirements, regardless of the types of contracts involved. Agencies have already begun imposing these separate requirements, further complicating the landscape and obligating contractors to carefully scrutinize any new bids or contract modifications lest their particular agency has included the FAR clause requiring compliance. Accordingly, the intake process needs to remain diligent to both avoid agreeing to this significant commitment and seize on potential opportunities to try to negotiate delayed implementations or other concessions. By the same token, companies should be alert for changes to agency requirements in case an agency retracts or refines its treatment of product providers.
Legal Challenges: It remains an open question as to which (if any) of the restrictions will actually become effective for product or service providers, as multiple litigants have challenged various aspects of the mandate and have received substantial (albeit temporary) relief. The following are some key litigation challenges: