This morning, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced his office and the leaders of the Florida legislature reached an agreement on provisions of legislation that will prevent Florida employers from mandating COVID-19 vaccines for employees. In a press conference this morning, DeSantis said, “I want to thank Senate President Simpson and Speaker Sprowls for their hard work. Look, nobody, no cop, firefighter, no nurse, nobody should be losing their jobs because of the jabs.”
DeSantis continued, “We have got to stand up for people and protect their jobs and protect their livelihoods.” He criticized the federal government for issuing the vaccine mandate despite President Biden previously acknowledging it did not have the power to do it. Then he noted that it took two months for OSHA to issue a regulation for what the federal government is trying to position as a “grave danger.” “That’s wrong. It’s wrong to treat people like that. It’s wrong to kick people out of work. It’s wrong to try and micromanage businesses like that. And it’s wrong to potentially deprive key industries of people that we need,” DeSantis emphasized.
He also pointed out that many people contacting him and his office regarding employer vaccine mandates had already recovered from COVID-19. DeSantis noted the absurdity of ignoring the science on immunity in recovered patients. “We have a responsibility, yes, to stand up against Biden’s mandates. But we have a responsibility to protect Floridians regardless of those mandates. And it doesn’t matter if the federal government stands down tomorrow. We would still need to be able to act to be able to protect our nurses, to be able to protect our firefighters, to be able to protect everybody in the economy.”
To accomplish this, DeSantis called a special session of the legislature to pass a bill for him to sign. The legislature and governor believe the legislation will provide several important protections. The most obvious is that no government entity can require COVID-19 vaccinations of anyone, including employees. It also expands the protections for parents and students by prohibiting educational institutions from requiring students to receive a vaccine. School districts may not require masks or quarantine healthy children. The decision to mask or keep a child home is up to the parents.
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If employers have a COVID-19 vaccine policy, the new law will restrict it from being a strict mandate. For employees with a health or religious concern, the employer must grant an exemption. Women who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant as well as anyone who has recovered from COVID-19 must be exempt. All employers must provide a testing or PPE option for employees, and the Florida Department of Health will determine the test frequency.
DeSantis’s Chief of Staff, James Uthmeier, made it clear that the law would provide broad exemption protections. While the federal rules don’t grant meaningful exemption relief, he is confident this will not be the case in Florida. He added that the legislation is only one prong of the state’s approach to fighting the OSHA mandate. Florida is also seeking a stay in the 11th Circuit Court and is hopeful the decision will mirror that of the 5th Circuit in a similar case.
Reportedly, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMMS) will be developing guidelines for reimbursement that require mandatory vaccination for healthcare workers to receive payment. Uthmeier said there would be no industry exemptions in the Florida law, and lawyers would review any rule from CMMS. He also said legislators would be looking at ways to ensure that, if an employer has a vaccine policy, vaccine injuries are compensable, even though OSHA has said employers are not required to report them on the OSHA 300 log.
Uthmeier explained the enforcement methods the legislation would provide. Employers will be subjected to an investigation and fine process to ensure they provide the required exemptions and employee options. If an investigation finds they have violated the statute, fines of $10,000–$50,000 per instance will apply. The Attorney General’s office will lead this process. Parents have the option to sue school districts that violate the protections provided to them and recover legal fees in the process.
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