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Chesterfield Commissioner of Revenue mandates COVID-19 vaccine for employees

Updated: Jun. 10, 2021 at 6:39 PM EDT
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CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WWBT) - The COVID-19 vaccine may not only save your life, but it could also save your job. As more workers return to the office, more employers are making it mandatory for them to be vaccinated.

“All employers - both private sector and public sector - can require that their employees be vaccinated,” said employment attorney Todd Leeson with Gentry Locke Attorneys.

Chesterfield County’s Commissioner of Revenue, Jenefer Hughes, is doing just that: telling certain employees in her office they must be vaccinated by the end of the month or face disciplinary action, including termination.

Those with medical or religious concerns are exempt.

In a letter obtained by NBC12, Hughes cites the close work her employees have with the public as the reason for the mandate.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission backs her up, saying it’s always been okay for employers to mandate vaccinations.

“You really didn’t hear a whole lot about it, but those rules did exist. Think about the healthcare industry, for example, who would try and mandate a flu vaccine,” said Leeson.

There have been challenges to the law, like in Texas where almost 200 hospital employees were suspended for not following vaccine guidelines:

“These employees have filed a lawsuit, and that’s pending. My sense is, it probably will get thrown out by the court,” said Leeson.

And as the vaccines become even more widespread, he expects even more lawsuits in the future.

“Employers are trying to do the right thing. Whether it’s a mandate or incentives, I don’t think employers are trying to be punitive. They’re trying to do what they think is in the best interest of their workforce, and with safety and health being paramount.”

Commissioner Hughes does not answer to the County administration since her post is an elected office, meaning she can impose a vaccine mandate on those who work for her.

In a statement to NBC12, Commissioner Hughes said:

“My office has been staffed throughout the pandemic to continue to provide services to Chesterfield County citizens. We opened our doors to the public on June 1st. As a result, the health and safety of taxpayers and staff has been my number one priority. I worked with the County’s Risk Management team to ensure my office followed physical distancing and masking policies, and my staff and I have followed those throughout the pandemic. Chesterfield County has done a phenomenal job of standing up an onsite vaccine clinic and procuring COVID 19 vaccines. Requiring all my staff who can be vaccinated to get vaccinated is a natural extension on my prioritization of the health and safety of taxpayers and employee.

I have made vaccination a requirement for service in my office, because we are a customer facing organization, and part of our service is to keep our taxpayers and ourselves safe and healthy. As public servants, we have a higher duty of care to fellow citizens and a leadership role in the community, to model the benefits of getting vaccinated. We are also in a position of trust for our citizens. Our office is responsible for interpreting and applying the tax laws in the Code of Virginia §58.1-3 and County ordinances fairly and equitably to all citizens. They need to have confidence that we are basing our decisions, objectively, on facts and evidence.

I have been letting staff know, verbally and then via emails, of my expectations, their rights under ADA, Title VII and EEOC, to ensure that everyone stays safe and healthy in the office. It is a priority that all staff who can be vaccinated get vaccinated to protect the staff who cannot, due to a medical or religious exemption. All my staff who cannot be vaccinated have agreed to continue wearing a mask for the time being as an accommodation of a waiver under the ADA and Title VII. I will be reviewing that requirement towards the end of July, to determine whether they feel safe to remove their masks.

As of today, 82% of my staff have been vaccinated, are in the process of vaccination or have been approved for an accommodation under the ADA or Title VII. The remaining staff are still in the decision making phase, and are being supported as needed to make a mutually agreed decision.”

Chesterfield County reiterates that it has not mandated all county employees be vaccinated.

Copyright 2021 WWBT. All rights reserved.

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