The Fight Over Vaccine Employment Mandates In Florida: State May Fine Leon County

Vaccine

According to a report from WTXL Tallahassee, Florida Governor Ron Desantis is sharply criticizing Leon County for its recently-announced vaccine mandate for government employees. Leon County is joining Orange County as the two counties in Florida that have rolled out COVID-19 vaccine mandates for certain municipal employees.

Leon County Put a Vaccine Mandate in Place for Certain Municipal Employees 

Home to the state capital in Tallahassee, Leon County is located in the central part of the Florida panhandle. Notably, the municipality actually has one of the lower COVID-19 vaccination rates among Florida counties. According to official data from the Florida Department of Health, the counties with the five highest vaccination rates are:

  1. Miami-Dade County: 73.24%
  2. Sarasota County: 66.26%
  3. Broward County: 63.09%
  4. Orange County: 62.90%
  5. Palm Beach County: 60.65%

For reference, the percent of residents who are fully vaccinated in Leon County is around 51 percent, slightly below the statewide average. In an effort to address the gap, Leon County Administrator Vincent Long released an interoffice memo earlier this summer mandating the COVID-19 vaccination for certain government employees. This mandate took effect on October 1st. 

Some Employees May Be Eligible for an Exemption on the Basis of Disability or Religion 

While Leon County announced its employee COVID-19 vaccination policy in July, there were questions about whether or not it would go into effect based on Florida state law. The mandatory vaccine policy did take effect at 11:59:59 PM on October 1st, 2021. All government workers who are employed by Leon County and violate the vaccination requirement without justification are now at risk of being suspended and/or terminated.

Employers requiring vaccination must comply with certain federal and state employment laws, including the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and religious discrimination statutes. Some employees may be eligible for an exemption under those laws. Notably, last month, Leon County reported that it has received 36 exemption request forms out of more than 1,000 total employees. 

Governor DeSantis: Leon County May Be Fined for Violation of Medical Privacy Law

A potential legal fight is now brewing between Florida and Leon County (along with several other local municipal governments). Last week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis sent an official letter to Leon County, Orange County, and several cities/towns demanding that they rescind their COVID-19 vaccination requirements for government employees. Governor DeSantis argues that such workplace requirements run afoul of Florida’s medical privacy laws. He warns that fines of up to $5,000 per violation may be levied. If fines are issued, they could total in the millions for Leon County and Orange County. A court battle over this issue is very likely. 

Speak to an Employment Law Attorney in Florida 

The COVID-19 pandemic has created some complicated situations for employers and employees, including as it pertains to vaccine mandates. If you have any specific questions or concerns about your rights in the workplace, please do not hesitate to reach out to an experienced Florida employment law attorney for help.

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