MARION COUNTY, Tx. (KTAL/KMSS) – Many employers are still working out how they will comply with sweeping orders issued last week by President Joe Biden requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for a large swath of the country’s employees, but some employers have already announced they won’t comply and experts say the orders could be difficult to enforce.
The orders require all federal workers, health care workers, and teachers, as well as employees of companies with over 100 workers – or provide proof of vaccination or agree to weekly testing. The mandate will cover 80 million employees — nearly two-thirds of the private sector workforce. Employers that don’t comply could face penalties of up to $13,600 per violation.
The mandate will not be enforced for the staff of Marion County or the citizens of Marion County, however. In a letter sent to county employees Tuesday, the sheriff and county judge said employees should have a choice.
“Let me be very clear. I’m not an anti-vax. My children are vaccinated. It’s about the federal government overreaching into something that should be a private decision between someone in their family and their healthcare provider,” said Judge Leward LaFleur. “Now, I’m not a healthcare provider. Neither is the government.”
According to LaFleur, when COVID-19 vaccines were first made available, Marion County brought in more vaccines per capita, than any other county of its size. He says he has received positive feedback after publishing his letter.
“People have been very supportive. They reached out. They’ve called the office here,” LaFleur said. “I think people are exhausted with what’s been happening last year and a half. And then it’s time that somebody stands up and says, hey, look, we’ve done this. We went from two weeks, to slow the spread, to mandating a vaccine. No, there’s got to be a different way.”
Employment Lawyer Karen Michael, author of “Stay Hired,” says a mandatory federal vaccine mandate could be difficult to enforce.
“You’ve got to show that it’s that unvaccinated workers present a grave danger to the workplace. And I think that might be a hard sell — given we’re 19 months into this and employers have done a pretty good job.”
Since President Biden’s announcement, concerned employees have been flooding Michael with emails about what could come next.
“I’ve seen so many people email me that say they telework, they never go into the office, and yet they’re being forced with the vaccine mandate from their employer,” Michael said. “And this is going to result in employees quitting finding places that aren’t requiring these vaccine mandates. You’ve got to question the legitimacy or the validity of why an employer would feel the need to impose a vaccine mandate on someone who was working remote. How does that really relate to the workplace? And I think that’s what employers need to consider.”
Michael explained in an article she recently published how employees could be exempt from the vaccine due to a religious reason.
“The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has long-standing guidance, including some that came out in 2021 that talks about a religion can be uncommon, unheard of just single to that person,” Michael said. “It doesn’t have to be a traditional religion. It’s very complicated — and that’s kind of what employers are faced right now.”
Despite President Biden’s vaccine mandate announcement, it is not official. The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is currently working on an approach to enforce the mandate.
“Employers who think that the OSHA mandate is currently in place — that’s not the case. President Biden made an announcement for employers of 100 or more, but there is no rule in place right now. So some employers are scrambling, thinking that there’s some rule in place that they have to comply with. Employers need to just kind of step back on that for a minute,” Michael said. “Let’s see what’s in the OSHA standards when they’re published, and then start to plan if necessary. Because I think there is going to be a lot of pushback on that law. And employers, I don’t think right now, need to be doing anything in response to President Biden’s announcement.”
Meanwhile, Shreveport and Bossier City have not yet come to a conclusion on the possibility of a mandate.
“We are currently gathering information from legal counsel and medical professionals regarding the potential mandate. At this time, no decisions have been made.”Bossier City Mayor’s Office
Mayor Perkins is currently encouraging employees to take the vaccine, however at this time there’s no mandate in place.Shreveport Mayor’s Office