Gov. Ron DeSantis’ threat to punish private businesses that require employees to get vaccinated appears to be more bark than bite.
The Republican-led Florida Legislature on Monday finally rolled out identical proposals for next week’s Special Session that would ban employers from requiring employees to get COVID-19 vaccinations without offering them five broad avenues for an exemption.
But the proposal is not permanent and would last only until June 2023. And the main bill that was released does not eliminate COVID-19 liability protections for businesses that require employees to get vaccinated, as DeSantis once hinted he would do. It also does not entitle workers to tap into workers’ compensation benefits if there are adverse reactions and injuries after a mandated vaccination.
Businesses that don’t comply with the provisions in the bills could still face hefty fines — up to $50,000 per violation for companies with 100 employees or more and $10,000 a violation for companies with fewer than 100 employees.
Business groups contacted for this story did not have an immediate comment on the proposal, which did not surface until Monday afternoon. The Legislature heads into a Special Session on Nov. 15 to address the issue of vaccine mandates and to beef up a 2021 law that broadened the rights parents had over their children while at school.
Sen. Danny Burgess is the primary sponsor of the Senate proposal (SB 2B) while Reps. Erin Grall and Ralph Masullo have teamed up to sponsor HB 1B, the House’s version of the proposal.
The Special Session is part of a two-pronged approach DeSantis has launched against President Joe Biden‘s administration and the vaccine mandates it issued. Florida is challenging the vaccine requirements in court while also calling the Legislature into Special Session to address its own policies.
But the strategy also could put Florida businesses in the crossfire if the DeSantis administration falls short on its legal challenges to federal rules and the proposed state policy becomes law.
That’s because what the federal government has required in its rules is different from what DeSantis wants to see become law.
For instance, private employers would be required under the proposed Florida law to provide free and regular COVID-19 testing for employees who don’t want to get vaccinated. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration released its Emergency Temporary Standard rule requiring an employee who refuses to get vaccinated to pay for their own testing.
In addition to the Emergency Temporary Standard rule, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued vaccination rules, as did the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force. Those mandates impact health care facilities, such as nursing homes and hospitals, that accept federal Medicare and Medicaid funds as well as firms that have contracts with the federal government, such as those that build roads.
Florida filed a legal challenge to the OSHA rule and the contractor rule and DeSantis said he also will challenge the CMS rule.
All three federal rules require employees to have their final vaccination dose — either their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna or a single dose of Johnson & Johnson — by Jan. 4. The OSHA rule requires employers to begin providing unvaccinated employees paid time to receive the vaccine as well as paid time off to recover from the vaccine side effects by Dec. 5.