Across the United States, state and local governments have taken different approaches with respect to COVID vaccine mandates in the workplace. Some government regulators have imposed strict mandates for workers in the public and private sectors. Meanwhile, others have enacted laws to curb workplace mandates.
Washington state has taken a stricter approach than many U.S. states and local governments. Proclamation 21-14.3, which Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee issued on November 24, 2021, applies vaccine mandates. It requires that certain workers provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19. Other states that have followed a similar approach include California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Oregon.
The penalties for violating the vaccine mandates are steep. Many individuals who work for covered employers but refuse vaccination cannot work. Under the proclamation, violators could face criminal penalties.
Employees Covered by the Vaccine Mandates
A broad range of employees must provide proof of vaccination status pursuant to Washington’s recent proclamation. These employees fall into a few broad categories: 1) workers at state agencies, 2) operators of any educational setting, 3) operators of any healthcare setting, and 4) healthcare providers.
The proclamation identifies which employees are under the umbrella of “healthcare providers.” It exclude iIn-home care and hospice workers from the definition of “healthcare providers” and are not subject to vaccine mandates.
Healthcare providers are defined as:
- Individuals with credentials in the scope of the Healthcare Professional Credentialing Requirements list,
- Individuals allowed by law to administer healthcare services in a professional capacity, even without credentials,
- long-term care workers who do not fall within an explicitly excluded category,
- and workers in any “health care setting.”
“Health care setting” is a broad definition and encompasses public or private settings with the primary function of providing in-person healthcare services.
Exemptions from Vaccine Mandates
The proclamation carves out exceptions for certain classes of individuals. The proclamation states that Washington will consider reasonable accommodation requests on a case-by-case basis.
Individuals holding certain religious beliefs, practices, or observances can be eligible for an exemption from vaccine mandates. To apply for an exemption, an individual must submit documentation. That documentation must detail the nature of the individual’s religious beliefs. The application for exemption must also describe how the vaccine requirement conflicts with the individual’s religious beliefs or practices.
Individuals with disabilities can also qualify for an exemption from the vaccine mandates. However, providing an accommodation for disability-related reasons cannot cause an undue hardship on the employer. A healthcare or rehabilitation professional must submit appropriate documentation that explains how the individual’s disability necessitates an accommodation from the vaccine mandate. If approved, the exemption would be considered a disability-related reasonable accommodation.
Even if an exemption from vaccination is granted, workers must still abide by the COVID-19 safety precautionsrecommended by Washington State’s Department of Health and the Department of Labor & Industries.
Individuals must provide legitimate proof of their vaccination records. A photo of an authentic vaccination card can be submitted. Personal attestation of vaccination status is not sufficient.
Approaches by Other States
Other jurisdictions have required stricter vaccine mandates. For example, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced that all private sector employees working in New York City must show proof of vaccination. Effective December 27th, the NYC vaccine mandate will apply to around 184,000 businesses.
“New York City will not give a single inch in the fight against COVID-19. Vaccination is the way out of this pandemic, and these are bold, first-in-the-nation measures to encourage New Yorkers to keep themselves and their communities safe,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.
NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Dave A. Chokshi reiterated Mayor de Blasio. “New York City has led the nation when it comes to decisive action on COVID-19,” Chokshi stated. “We have to be more relentless than the virus, and I know that our vaccine policies will save lives and help prevent unnecessary suffering.”
States Placing Curbs on Workplace Vaccine Mandates
On the other side of the spectrum, some states have implemented legislation to impose limits on workplace vaccine mandates. These states include Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, North Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia.
Montana and Tennessee have enacted laws to ban vaccine mandates entirely. Other states have taken milder approaches that expand exemption options for employees who do not want to be vaccinated.