October 15, 2021
Pennsylvania State University announced this week that it would require all employees at its flagship University Park campus to submit proof of vaccination against COVID-19 vaccination by Dec. 8 to comply with President Joe Biden’s order mandating vaccination for federal contractors.
More than 700 universities have already announced vaccine mandates for employees, according to a tracker maintained by The Chronicle of Higher Education. But Penn State — which previously had resisted mandating COVID-19 vaccination for employees or students — may be among the first institutions to link an employee vaccination mandate to Biden’s Sept. 9 order requiring vaccination for federal contractors.
The requirement for federal contractors, which allows for exemptions on medical or religious grounds, has expansive implications for universities that hold contracts with the U.S. government.
Peter McDonough, vice president and general counsel for the American Council on Education and lead author of an issue brief on this topic, said it “potentially affects all corners of campus even if somebody working in a particular office or building wouldn’t themselves ever be thought of as supporting federal contract work on that campus. The guidance is intended to essentially say, ‘If there’s any chance whatsoever that someone on campus can come into contact with someone who is working directly or indirectly on a federal contract, that person needs to be vaccinated as well.’”
Specifically, federal guidance issued Sept. 24 says the order applies to full-time or part-time employees “working on or in connection with a covered contract,” including “employees who perform duties necessary to the performance of the covered contract, but who are not directly engaged in performing the specific work called for by the covered contract, such as human resources, billing, and legal review.”