American fly against blue sky.

Joseph R. Biden Jr. was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States on January 20, 2021. President Biden hit the ground running, issuing 17 executive orders, proclamations, memoranda, and similar actions on his first day. Many of these presidential actions have impacts that go beyond the day-to-day activities of the workplace, but employers may still want to have an understanding of these policy changes. Set forth below is a summary of the actions that President Biden took on his first day in office.

COVID-19 Pandemic

Mask Wearing

The Executive Order on Protecting the Federal Workforce and Requiring Mask-Wearing requires “on-duty or on-site Federal employees; on-site Federal contractors; and all persons in Federal buildings or on Federal lands” to follow U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines with respect to mask wearing, social distancing, and other public health measures.

COVID-19 Response

The Executive Order on Organizing and Mobilizing the United States Government to Provide a Unified and Effective Response to Combat COVID-19 and to Provide United States Leadership on Global Health and Security  “creates the position of Coordinator of the COVID-19 Response and Counselor to the President” who reports directly to the president. This position manages all elements of the COVID-19 response, including “coordinating the Federal Government’s efforts to produce, supply, and distribute personal protective equipment, vaccines, tests, and other supplies for the Nation’s COVID-19 response” and to safely reopen schools and childcare facilities.

Rejoining the World Health Organization

President Biden sent a letter to the United Nations that rescinds President Donald Trump’s intention to withdraw from the World Health Organization (WHO) and affirms the United States’ commitment as a member of the WHO.

Economic Protections

Student Loans

President Biden issued a statement confirming that “the Acting Secretary of Education will extend the pause on federal student loan payments and collections and keep the interest rate at 0%.” The statement did not set a termination date for the forbearance, though other materials released by the White House indicate that it will be through at least September 30, 2021.

Environmental and Climate Change

We’ll Always Have Paris

President Biden signed an order recommitting the United States to the Paris climate agreement.


The Executive Order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis directs agencies to consider revising vehicle fuel economy and emissions standards, institutes a temporary moratorium on federal government activities in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and revokes certain presidential environmental permits.

Equity Matters

Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation

The Executive Order on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation directs agencies to “consider whether to revise, suspend, or rescind” agency actions to fully implement the federal government’s policy that “[a]ll persons should receive equal treatment under the law, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation.”

Racial Equity

The Executive Order On Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government sets forth a “whole-of-government equity agenda” that instructs agencies to “assess whether underserved communities and their members face systemic barriers in accessing benefits and opportunities available pursuant to [each agency’s] policies and programs.” Additionally, the order establishes an Interagency Working Group on Equitable Data and instructs the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to develop strategies “for allocating Federal resources in a manner that increases investment in underserved communities, as well as individuals from those communities.” It also revokes Executive Order 13950, relating to diversity and inclusion training programs offered by federal contractors.



The Executive Order on Ensuring a Lawful and Accurate Enumeration and Apportionment Pursuant to the Decennial Census revokes the Trump administration’s actions that excluded persons not in a lawful immigration status from the census and apportionment of congressional representatives.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

President Biden has directed the secretary of homeland security and the attorney general to take all steps “to preserve and fortify DACA.”

Deferred Enforced Departure for Liberians

This memorandum reinstates and extends through June 30, 2022, the grant of deferred enforced departure designation for Liberians who are in the United States due to armed conflict in Liberia.

Not Another Brick in the Wall

The Proclamation on the Termination Of Emergency With Respect To The Southern Border Of The United States And Redirection Of Funds Diverted To Border Wall Construction terminates President Trump’s national emergency declaration that diverted money for construction of a wall along the southern border.

Interior Enforcement

The Executive Order on the Revision of Civil Immigration Enforcement Policies and Priorities revokes Executive Order 13768 of January 25, 2017, (“Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States”) which, among other provisions, expanded the categories of individuals who were considered deportation priorities and prohibited “sanctuary jurisdictions” from receiving federal grants.

Bans on Entry

The Proclamation on Ending Discriminatory Bans on Entry to The United States rescinds multiple Trump-era executive orders and proclamations, including the so-called “Muslim ban,” as well as the “enhanced vetting” proclamations.

Government Processes

Ethics Pledge

The Executive Order on Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch Personnel requires every appointee in the executive branch to sign an ethics pledge to prevent conflicts of interest.

Regulatory Process

President Biden issued the Modernizing Regulatory Review memorandum that seeks to modernize the regulatory review process by requesting feedback from OMB and other agencies as to “how the regulatory review process can promote public health and safety, economic growth, social welfare, racial justice, environmental stewardship, human dignity, equity, and the interests of future generations.”

Regulatory Process: Part 2

President Biden issued an Executive Order on Revocation of Certain Executive Orders Concerning Federal Regulation that revokes certain regulatory reform memoranda issued by the prior administration, including two memos that discourage the promulgation of subregulatory documents (e.g., memos, FAQs) as binding policy.

Regulatory Freeze Memorandum

President Biden’s chief of staff issued a “regulatory freeze” memorandum, which is standard operating procedure for new administrations. The memo instructs agencies to refrain from issuing new or proposed rules, to withdraw rules that have been sent to but not yet published in the Federal Register, and to postpone for 60 days the effective dates of rules that have been finalized and published in the Federal Register.

If you’re a fan of presidential authority and actions, the next few days and weeks are your Super Bowl. Indeed, presidential transitions are always a time of great policy upheaval, but expect even more changes this time around, as the administration looks to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, bolster the economy, and address environmental and racial matters.


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