On November 18th, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law HB 1-B/SB 2-B, requiring employers to provide five exemptions for COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Under the new law, Florida employees may apply for an exemption from vaccine mandates due to: 1) Medical Reasons, 2) Religious Beliefs, 3) COVID-19 Immunity, 4) Periodic Testing, and 5) Use of Personal Protective Equipment.
According to the emergency rule from the Florida Department of Legal Affairs, when requesting a COVID-19 vaccine exemption, employees must submit one of the forms provided by the Florida Department of Health to their employer. If the employer does not provide a vaccine exemption, the employee may then submit a complaint to the Florida Department of Legal Affairs. After the complaint is deemed legally sufficient, the employer will then have 20 days to send a response. If it is determined that an employer took adverse action against an employee despite a legitimate vaccine mandate exemption, employers must voluntarily reinstate the employee with back pay or risk paying a fine of up to $10,000 (for employers with less than 100 employees) or $50,000 (for employers with 100+ employees).
The Florida vaccine mandate exemptions apply to employers of any size with full-time, part-time or contract employees who work in the state of Florida.
Prior to the new law, employers in Florida were required to recognize medical and religious exemptions due to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Florida’s new law takes these protections significantly further. Not only are there three additional exemptions, but under the new law, when an employee submits a religious exemption form, employers “shall not inquire into the veracity of the employee’s religious beliefs.” (Under federal protections, employers MAY request supporting information to determine the sincerity of religious conviction.)
For additional information, see Florida Attorney General’s FAQ on the new exemptions.
StraightforWARD Legal Advice:
Florida’s new exemptions make it difficult for employers to implement vaccine mandates. However, there is no language in Florida’s law that prevents employers from offering vaccine incentives. In fact, Florida Press Secretary Christina Pushaw pushed back on the City of Gainesville’s claim that they could not offer vaccine incentives to employees under Florida law.
In addition to the new law, there have also been recent developments in federal vaccine mandates for employers to consider:
- On Wednesday 12/15, a federal vaccine mandate which requires certain healthcare employees to receive vaccinations was revived by a federal appeals court in a number of states, including Florida.
- On Friday 12/17, a federal vaccine mandate which requires workers at large businesses to either receive vaccinations or test on a weekly basis was reinstated by a federal appeals court.
These developments present a tough task for Florida employers. On the one hand, federal law preempts state law, but on the other hand, it is likely that these federal mandates will be challenged in court. Therefore, it is vital that employers remain abreast of changes, to ensure that they are in compliance with both federal and state law.