Federal government contractors face many uncertainties as they implement President Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. This includes the distinct possibility of civil lawsuits arising out of their implementation of the mandate, including potential allegations of invasion of privacy, wrongful termination, lost wages, discrimination, personal injury or other common law claims or statutory violations. At least one such lawsuit already has been filed. In that suit, dozens of aggrieved employees allege that the contractor’s vaccine mandate violates state law, and they seek an injunction and other relief. Other lawsuits are sure to follow.
But there is good news for contractors: Established legal doctrines should provide contractors some degree of protection—and perhaps complete immunity—against such lawsuits. In addition to the statutory protections afforded to contractors under the PREP Act, contractors may be protected from civil liability based on federal-law-based defenses that have been recognized and applied in analogous government contracting settings. In the coming weeks, as contractors navigate the many challenges associated with the vaccine mandate, they should carefully consider the risk of civil litigation, and, in order to minimize potential exposure in such lawsuits, proactively implement practices that maximize the likelihood that these doctrines and defenses will be applicable, as discussed below.