The Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for federal employees is uncertain as the full 5th Circuit Court of Appeals considers the case.
The en banc hearing occurred on Sept. 13, 2022. As of this writing, no opinion has been announced. The release of their opinion will not necessarily be the end of the legal road.
The lawsuit had been brought by Feds for Medical Freedom. The group has said it intends to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court if the 5th Circuit opinion allows the mandate to go into effect.
Second Hearing with the 5th Circuit
The hearing marks the second time the case has come before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. A three-judge panel ruled 2-1 on April 7, 2022, to reverse a lower court ruling and dismiss the lawsuit challenging the mandate.
The New Orleans-based appellate court said the lower court judge did not have jurisdiction in the case. The ruling also stated that the plaintiffs in the case could have pursued administrative remedies under Civil Service law. Federal employees can claim a medical or religious exemption from the vaccine mandate.
Requirements of the Vaccine Mandate
President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Sept. 9, 2021, requiring vaccines for all federal employees.
The order stated, “I have determined that ensuring the health and safety of the federal workforce and the efficiency of the civil service requires immediate action to protect the federal workforce and individuals interacting with the federal workforce.”
The vaccine requirement was extended to federal contractors on Sept. 24, 2021. Federal employees had to be vaccinated by Nov. 22, 2021, or potentially face progressive disciplinary action. Federal contractors had a Dec. 8 deadline.
Lawsuits Filed to Block Vaccine Mandates
Within a month of the order, 11 states sought to block the vaccine mandate:
- New Hampshire
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
More states joined the effort to stop vaccine mandates for federal employees, larger employers, health care workers, and others.
Biden Administration Originally Lost in Federal Court
U.S. District Court Judge R. Stan Baker of the Southern District of Georgia issued an injunction in December 2021 that blocked the vaccine mandate for federal contractors.
A nationwide injunction related to federal employees was issued in January 2022 by U. S. District Judge Jeffrey Brown for the Southern District of Texas. In his ruling, Judge Brown said that the president didn’t have the authority to “with the stroke of a pen and without the input of Congress, require millions of federal employees to undergo a medical procedure as a condition of their employment.”
Part of his rationale for his ruling was the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to block a federal rule requiring large companies to either have their employees vaccinated or be subjected to weekly COVID testing. The high court did, however, uphold the vaccine requirement for workers at medical facilities receiving Medicare or Medicaid payments.
About 95% of federal workers had already complied with the mandate by the time the injunction was issued.
Federal Worker Vaccine Mandate Reinstated
The case was then brought before the 5th Circuit Court, where administration lawyers noted that district judges in a dozen other jurisdictions had rejected the challenge to the vaccine requirement before Brown’s ruling.
The administration’s team also argued that the president is essentially the CEO of the federal workforce, and the Constitution gives the present the authority to require vaccinations.
The panel dismissed the Feds for Medical Freedom lawsuit, allowing the vaccine requirement for federal workers. The ruling was stayed after the 5th Circuit granted the plaintiff’s petition asking for the full 17-member court to hear new arguments in the case.
The injunction blocking the mandate for federal contractors remains in effect.
Religious and Medical Exemptions for Vaccine Mandate
Certain health care workers are bound by the executive order requiring COVID vaccines. Depending on the pending 5th Circuit ruling, federal workers may also soon be compelled to get the vaccine unless covered by an exemption. The order specifically allows accommodation for medical and religious exemptions.
At Legal Lion Employment Law Firm, we are dedicated to supporting federal employees. If you have religious or medical grounds for not wanting the COVID vaccine, we can help. Employers will not automatically accept your claims. Legal guidance can improve your chances of success.
Medical exemptions require documentation, signed and dated by a licensed practitioner, confirming recognized clinical contraindications to COVID-19 vaccines. Religious exemptions should demonstrate sincerely held religious beliefs. Non-religious concerns and personal preferences are not acceptable reasons to grant an exemption.
We serve clients nationwide from our Tampa Bay offices.
If you want to exercise your right to a medical or religious exemption, contact us to schedule a free consultation. We will evaluate your case and discuss potential next steps. Call (813) 437-4447 today.