With coronavirus infections surging due to the delta variant, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Monday (Aug. 9) that state employees and workers for long-term care providers must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by mid-October or they could lose their jobs.
Under the mandate, workers in executive branch agencies under Inslee’s control — such as the departments of Corrections and Social and Health Services — must show proof of vaccination by Oct. 18 as a condition of employment. Failure to do so could result in dismissal.
The edict, which took effect Aug. 9, also applies to employees of privately run providers of long-term care, such as nursing homes, adult family homes and assisted living facilities, as well as to contractors, volunteers and other positions that have any on-site presence in those settings.
Public and private employers will need to verify each person’s vaccination status. Exemptions for religious or medical reasons will be available.
The mandate does not apply to workers in public schools and colleges. Nor does it cover members of boards and commissions, employees in the legislative and judicial branches, or staff in state agencies run by separately elected officials. Inslee has spoken to legislative and elected leaders and encouraged them to take similar action, according to his office.
Inslee has repeatedly said the vaccine is the best tool to combat the virus’s spread and prevent illnesses and deaths. He hinted at a potential mandate last week as the state grappled with a rise in cases due to the highly transmissible variant.
“The state of Washington has a duty to our employees to provide a safe work environment free of known hazards, and to reduce risk to the public we serve,” reads an explanatory statement posted by the governor’s office. “This safety measure is equally important to fight the spread of COVID generally and statewide because it will help to protect the communities in which we live and interact before and after our state work hours. Private employers operate under the same workplace safety standards as the state.”
State workers who refuse to be vaccinated will be subject to non-disciplinary dismissal for failing to meet the qualifications of the job. If a person who is vaccinated refuses to provide proof, they too can be fired, according to the governor’s office.
Inslee’s spokeswoman said the governor has the authority to issue the blanket requirement under his emergency powers during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
California and New York previously enacted similar mandates. Also on Aug. 9, King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan joined Inslee to say they’ll impose similar rules on their county and city employees.
Sen. Mike Padden, the lead Republican on the Senate Law and Justice Committee and a founding member of the Senate Freedom Caucus, called the move a violation of Washingtonians’ civil liberties.
“The people of this state have met the governor’s 70-percent vaccination goal and have lived under his sporadic and shifting emergency orders for more than 16 months,” said Padden, R-Spokane Valley. “They don’t deserve to be bullied and threatened into putting something into their body that they don’t want. This is not only unnecessary and likely to result in greater rejection of the vaccine, but it’s a violation of basic civil liberties.”
“I am not anti-vaccine,” explained Padden, who received the COVID-19 vaccine himself and personally supports the shot for those who choose it. “But no decision is more personal than the decision to receive an injection. Individuals should have access to the vaccine if they so choose, but no one should be forced to be vaccinated just to exercise the fundamental rights available to all citizens.
“Bullying and threatening our state employees and healthcare workers is no way to show appreciation for the tremendous service they provide the people of Washington.”
He also warned, “This will undoubtedly cost of the trust and goodwill of state employees, and as the economy recovers, we may also lose many of the talented men and women we count on to make state government operate smoothly.”