Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed HB 1-B into law on November 18, 2021. This legislation prohibits private Florida employers of all sizes from instituting COVID-19 vaccine mandates unless several exemptions are provided to employees. This legislation temporarily invalidates any workplace COVID-19 vaccine mandate currently in place until the Florida Department of Health (“FDOH”) has issued implementing regulations and guidance that is expected to be released on or before December 3, 2021.
While there are still many questions the FDOH will need to answer, please note this is not an outright ban on vaccine mandates. Private employers operating in Florida that choose to implement a vaccine mandate must design the policy to accommodate the following five exemptions:
- Medical reasons as established by a medical professional (including pregnancy and anticipated pregnancy);
- Religious reasons based on a sincerely held religious belief;
- COVID-19 immunity as established by competent medical evidence;
- The employee agrees to undergo periodic testing for the presence of COVID-19 at the expense of the employer; or
- The employee agrees to comply with the employer’s reasonable written requirement to use employer-provided personal protective equipment.
Employers are also prohibited from retaliating against employees who refuse to adhere to a vaccine mandate that does not comply with HB 1-B. Employees wanting to claim an exemption will be required to submit a form published by the FDOH.
The FDOH is also tasked with providing clarity on how employers should interpret and enact the above exemptions. Unfortunately, we will not have many answers until the FDOH issues its implementing guidance.
We are mindful that this new legislation may create confusion for larger employers that are otherwise subject to the federal OSHA-issued Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS). AlphaStaff previously advised that enforcement of the ETS has been placed on hold pending review by the federal courts. Until a final determination has been made regarding this ETS, Florida employers must comply with HB 1-B. An employer’s failure to comply can result in hefty penalties ranging from $10,000 to $50,000 per violation.
AlphaStaff will continue monitoring all federal and state legislation related to vaccine mandates, including developments with HB 1-B and the ETS. Please check out our comprehensive COVID-19 Vaccine FAQ for up-to-date information about workplace vaccine policies.