Florida recently passed a law that makes it difficult for employers to impose vaccine mandates on employees.
As the status of the federal vaccine mandate for large employers continues to play out in the courts, lawmakers at the state level have taken preemptive action — a handful of states have passed laws limiting COVID-19 vaccine mandates by private employers.
Florida Anti-Vaccine Mandate Law
In Florida, the governor on Nov. 18, 2021, signed a bill that prohibits private employers from instituting vaccine mandates without giving employees an opportunity to obtain an exemption.
Hailed by Gov. Ron DeSantis as the strongest anti-vaccine mandate action taken by a U.S. state, the law gives employees several reasons to not get the vaccine.
- Employees can choose from numerous exemptions, including health or religious concerns, pregnancy or anticipated future pregnancy, and past recovery from COVID-19
- Employees can choose to opt for periodic testing or personal protective equipment (PPE) as an exemption
- Employers must cover the costs of testing and PPE exemptions for employees
However, there are certain standards that must be met under the exemption categories. For example, under health reasons, the employee must show an exemption statement from a medical professional who has examined the worker.
Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Health has issued exemption forms for workers based on the above exemptions.
Also, employers found in violation of the law can be hit with fines for not complying with the law:
- Small businesses (99 employees or less): $10,000 per employee violation
- Larger employers (100 workers or more): $50,000 per employee violation
“I told Floridians that we would protect their jobs and today we made that the law,” DeSantis said in a statement. “Nobody should lose their job due to heavy-handed COVID mandates and we had a responsibility to protect the livelihoods of the people of Florida. I’m thankful to the Florida Legislature for joining me in standing up for freedom.”
Lastly, bill also includes other measures related to schools, and bars governments from requiring vaccines of their employees, as well.
While Florida has long been a state that has pushed back against restrictions related to COVID-19, other states have also passed laws against vaccine mandates.
Vaccine Mandates: New Laws
In addition to Florida, about 10 other states have passed laws pushing back against employer-directed vaccine mandates for workers.
The National Academy for State Health Policy lists 11 states with some sort of law limiting private employers from mandating the COVID-19 vaccine.
Most require exemptions, but Montana and Tennessee are two exceptions.
In Tennessee, a bill passed in mid-November 2021 bars employers from requiring the vaccine — or taking adverse action against an employee for not getting it — for any reason.
Montana took a different approach. There, an employee’s vaccination status is considered a protected category. Under Montana’s law, employers may not discriminate against, refuse to employ, or bar an individual from employment based on whether the individual has been vaccinated or holds an immunity passport.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, employers with locations in New York City should note that private-sector workers will be subject to the city’s vaccine mandate starting Dec. 27. Officials in New York City are expected to issue additional guidance in mid-December 2021.
That news — coupled with some states reacting to the federal vaccine mandate by passing measures to hinder employers’ ability to require the vaccine — means employers operating across the U.S. will have to review their procedures and potentially craft separate vaccination policies depending on the jurisdiction.
A blanket approach to the COVID-19 vaccine may not work for large, multi-jurisdiction employers. And employers with locations in Florida should examine their vaccination policies to ensure compliance with the latest law.
Even as the federal vaccine mandate plays out in the courts, employers still have other vaccine issues to monitor.