L&I: Businesses must verify vaccination
Schweitzer ‘urgently’ insists reconsideration of mandate
Last updated 5/27/2021 at 11:39am
OLYMPIA – The state Department of Labor and Industries is requiring business owners to verify employees have been vaccinated.
Under the new May 21 mandate, the agency is also requiring employers to create a “log of workers who have verified they’ve been vaccinated and the date of verification.
“I believe they are crossing the line,” farmer Sen. Mark Schoessler, R-Ritzville, said Tuesday, May 25, reacting to the new mandate.
The rule also requires employers to check vaccination status daily as workers enter jobsites, marking badges or credentials to indicate vaccination and otherwise demonstrate they have verified vaccination for employees who work in close proximity or are not wearing masks.
The agency said acceptable verification includes a federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccine card, a photo of the card, documentation from a health care provider, a signed attestation from workers and documentation from the state immunization information system.
Verification of vaccination is being required before employers can allow workers to be mask-free or work in close proximity. Employers must allow workers to wear masks if they so choose, under the rule.
They are also required to order masks and social distancing for employees who decline to provide any vaccination verification.
The new rule doesn’t sit well with Pullman-based Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories President and Chief Technology Officer Edmund O. Schweitzer III .
In a letter he penned May 22 to Gov. Jay Inslee, he “urgently” insisted the state reconsider forcing employers to verify vaccinations.
“You may view the regulation as necessary,” he wrote. “But to us, it is an overreach by the government into our private lives.”
Schweitzer said companies need to be trusted to manage their businesses and “act in a safe and healthy manner.”
He noted that his own company continues to act on behalf of the wellbeing of all employees.
“The new state requirements make no change to health and safety procedures,” he wrote. “The only change is that the state is now asking us to not trust employee-owners and to require written verification that a person has been vaccinated if they are not wearing a mask.”
He questioned the need to then provide private health data to state Department of Labor and Industries employees.
Because those state workers are not health-care providers, they are not governed by federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which prevents health workers and their business associates (like insurance companies) from disseminating private health care data.
A bill that would’ve prevented “third parties,” such as businesses and state agencies, from disseminating coronavirus related data was vetoed May 18 by Gov. Jay Inslee two weeks ago because he said it could have impeded businesses, not-for-profit groups, schools, sports teams and government agencies from offering freebies for showing vaccination verification.
“There is no need to collect written verification and turn it over to the Department of Labor and Industries,” he wrote, calling the agency’s mandate a “misstep.”
Schoessler – who represents the 9th Legislature District including Adams, Asotin, Franklin, Garfield, Whitman and part of Spokane County – said employee medical information should be off limits.
“As far as L&I, it’s NYB (none of your business) with my employees,” he said.
Schoessler said Schweitzer was the first to tell him of Labor and Industries mandate.
He said he wasn’t surprised, given the Legislature’s failure to stand up to Gov. Inslee during the legislative session.
“He believes he’s the supreme being, right now,” Schoessler said, noting agencies like Labor and Industries are under the executive branch of state government, and ultimately Gov. Inslee.
Schoessler worries new mandates like these are going to make it more difficult for employers to remain in business in Washington state.
He noted employers are already struggling to find workers due to all the free government money, lack of evictions and other coronavirus orders.
“I’m looking for a minimum of two good people for wheat harvest,” Schoessler said.
He plans to ask them if they can drive a truck and a combine, but not if they are vaccinated.
“I don’t plan to ask any of my employees, or require it,” he said.
Schoessler also believes there are possible legal consequences for asking and requiring it, too.
“I think employers have more to risk by compliance than non-compliance (with the mandate),” he said.
The Mason Jar owner Douglas LaBar in Cheney doesn’t see it that way.
As a private businessman, he said his employees are all vaccinated and he’s got documentation on file.
“I wasn’t asking to begin with,” he said. “But it makes me feel more secure as an owner.”
LaBar said the new mandate should take pressure off business owners by knowing their workers cannot spread the virus.
“It’s one thing that kind of certifies we’re moving in the right direction,” he said.
LaBar, who also leads the Cheney Merchants Association, said it was a personal decision for him as an owner.
But in wearing his business association hat, he’s not recommending anything other than following related guidelines.
“We (Cheney Merchants Association) are telling people to follow the guidelines,” he said. “If they (business owners and managers) want to start taking off masks, you make sure you have some kind of documentation on-hand.
“As merchants, everyone is just excited to be moving in this direction.”