WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CBS12) — Palm Beach County's Tax Collector, Anne Gannon, made a controversial decision in April: She announced a COVID vaccine mandate for her 300 staff members.
Unless they could prove a medical or religious exemption, workers in her department had to get the COVID vaccine by June 15, or face termination.
"Dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year has been difficult for everyone," Gannon said in a statement in April. "The tax collector’s office is a designated essential operation, and we are very proud of our continued service to the residents of Palm Beach County throughout this pandemic. Our priority has been and will continue to be the health and safety of our employees and our clients who require our in-person services."
Today, a majority of their staff is fully vaccinated, according to Tax Collector spokesperson Jeffrey Vortolomei.
Just 8 out of 303 employees left the department due to the vaccine policy, he said.
CBS12 News made repeated requests to interview Gannon about the vaccine policy, but we were told she was not available.
As COVID-19 cases surge again and vaccination rates remain slow in the state, should more employers follow the Tax Collector and mandate vaccines?
See also: Florida reports highest daily COVID-19 case count since January
New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio thinks so. He urged NYC private businesses to start to require vaccinations for workers, and suggested municipal workers in the city may soon be subject to similar requirements.
In California, state employees will have to provide proof of COVID vaccination or be subject to weekly, mandatory COVID testing.
Nova Southeastern University, based in Fort Lauderdale, is another employer mandating COVID vaccines. All faculty and staff must be vaccinated by the fall.
"The acceptance within faculty and staff has been very high," said Dr. Harry Moon, Chief Operating Officer at NSU. He said that out of 6,000 employees, less than one percent requested accommodations to the vaccine rule. He is not aware of anyone quitting over the policy.
NSU was originally planning on requiring vaccines for students, but Dr. Moon said the Governor's ban on vaccine passports made them re-think their policy. Now, vaccines will be encouraged among students and required for only staff.
The campus will continue to require masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status.
They plan on lifting the mask mandate if enough students voluntarily report their COVID vaccination, so that a herd immunity threshold is reached on campus.
Employment lawyer Michael Elkins of MLE Law Firm in Fort Lauderdale told CBS12 News there is no question that employers can mandate vaccines among staff, even as Governor Ron DeSantis bans vaccine passports.
Elkins said he is getting inquiries from businesses constantly about implementing vaccine policies.
"I think what you are going to see are employers encouraging vaccination, not mandating vaccination," he said.
According to the latest report from the Florida Department of Health, nearly 10 million Floridians are fully vaccinated, about 40 percent of the total population, and 60 percent of the vaccine-eligible population.
CBS12 News asked West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James if he supports vaccine mandates. He stopped short of calling for them - but said he would support business owners' decisions:
Mayor Keith A. James strongly encourages people to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, because the vaccine can save lives. After leading the local fight to expand access to the vaccine for all residents, Mayor James personally directed the establishment of the city’s COVID-19 vaccination site, which processed 8,100 appointments. Mayor James remains fully supportive of efforts by business owners to take the steps they deem necessary to promote a healthy, safe workplace for employees and customers.