Religious exemptions for state mandate on vaccines abruptly revoked
As the deadline for state officials to be vaccinated against COVID, some state officials who previously approved religious accommodations have seen those exemptions abruptly revoked
OLYMPIA, Wash. – Nearly a dozen workers at the Washington State Department of Fisheries and Wildlife discovered this week that previously granted religious accommodations were being revoked – leaving them only days to get the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine – 19 or be made redundant, FOX 13 News has learned.
In one case, an employee was granted an accommodation on September 20, only to be notified nine days later that the agency had changed their mind.
ââ¦ We have received additional advice that has changed the way we assess these requests for reasonable accommodation,â read the September 29 letter to Brad Otto, a 20-year DFW veteran. “Based on the new guidelines and a review of our business needs and your working environment, your previously granted reasonable accommodation has been rescinded.”
Otto, who spoke to FOX 13 News as a member of the Washington Association of Fish & Wildlife Professionals, said he felt “betrayed”.
âI don’t think it’s personal, but you never know,â he said. “These are weird times, having to comply or quit a job you love.”
In an email to staff, DFW deputy director Amy Windrope acknowledged the unfortunate moment of the decision.
PREVIOUS COVER: Religious exemption not enough to save jobs as vaccination mandate looms
âIt’s a tough decision, and we recognize it may be late for you,â she wrote in an email.
While the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife attributed the sudden change, in part, to âadditional guidance from the BCI,â the Bureau of Financial Management provided FOX 13 with a document showing that the official guidance for agencies no. ‘had not been updated since September 13 – an entire week before the DFW approved Otto’s religious accommodation.
In the letter approving his accommodation, Otto was told he could keep his job and remain unvaccinated if he worked remotely, or wore a mask and maintained social distancing with others.
Asked what happened between September 20 and September 29 to cancel hosting, DFW Director of Public Affairs Carrie McCausland wrote in an email:
ââ¦ The safest workplace is one where the staff are fully immunized, with as few exceptions as possible. Having said that, it was decided to no longer accept the inherent risk of a workplace where both vaccinated staff and staff who do not need to navigate the common areas, corridors, work areas. printers / copiers, toilets, etc. for everyone’s safety. It is not the staff burden to share; it is the employer’s responsibility not to have staff in a situation where they have to decide if it is safe to go to work.
PREVIOUS COVER: Emails: State has sought to make religious vaccine exemption “as narrow as possible”
In short, the agency simply changed its mind.
The sudden change only leaves the 11 affected employees a few days to get vaccinated in order to achieve full vaccination status before the governor’s deadline of October 18. As of Thursday, a total of 286 DFW employees had not verified their immunization status with the agency.
It is not clear whether employees of other state agencies saw a similar revocation of the accommodations this week. The OFM said it plans to update the latest vaccination figures on October 11.
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