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Federal Workers Face Jab-or-Job Choice Anew Under Vaccine Ruling

April 7, 2022, 11:20 PM

Federal workers will face renewed pressure to get Covid-19 shots or risk losing their jobs under a court ruling.

A federal appeals court on Thursday told a trial judge to throw out a challenge to President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate covering 2.1 million U.S. government civilian employees. The judge in Texas had previously blocked the presidential order nationwide.

The Fifth Circuit ruling comes against a backdrop of sharply lower coronavirus infections and hospitalizations nationwide, and echoes the U.S. Supreme Court ruling greenlighting Biden’s similar vaccine requirement for all workers in federally funded health-care facilities.

The crux of the federal vaccine debate is whether Biden, as CEO of the federal work force, can set and enforce job requirements that force civilian workers to accept unwanted medical procedures.

The Supreme Court has tackled versions of this question in two other vaccine-mandate challenges. In the challenge covering health-care facilities, the justices sided with Biden, saying federal regulators can set threshold conditions to qualify for federal funds.

In a related challenge, though, the high court rejected the White House’s argument that regulators can stretch federal workplace safety rules to require Covid-19 vaccinations of all workers at private companies with more than 100 employees.

U.S. government workers across the country ran to different courts seeking relief from Biden’s jab-or-job rule, which was slated to take effect in January. U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Brown of Galveston, Texas, a Donald Trump appointee, was the only one of 12 judges to side with the workers and block the mandate from kicking in.

Federal agencies report that roughly 98% of their employees have complied with the vaccine mandate, which offers exemptions for workers citing medical or religious reasons.

The New Orleans appellate judges punted on the heart of the vaccine-mandate debate that has entangled federal courts nationwide.

The majority on the panel ruled the workers must first exhaust employment grievances -- like mandatory vaccination requirements -- through administrative channels established by the Civil Service Reform Act before they can seek relief in federal court. In ordering dismissal of the workers’ challenge, the panel effectively reinstated Biden’s vaccine mandates.

Trent McCotter, a lawyer for Feds for Medical Freedom, a 6,000-member organization of federal employees, didn’t immediately respond to email or phone messages seeking comment on the ruling and whether he’ll be appealing.

The case is Feds for Medical Freedom v Joseph Biden, 22-40043, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (New Orleans).

To contact the reporter on this story:
Laurel Brubaker Calkins in New York at lcalkins@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Katia Porzecanski at kporzecansk1@bloomberg.net

Peter Blumberg

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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