State Workers Are Getting Exemptions to Avoid COVID-19 Vaccine — But Will They Keep Their Jobs?

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OLYMPIA — Washington government agencies are granting hundreds of religious and medical exemptions for state workers who don't want to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

But so far, agencies like the Washington State Patrol have granted just a handful of accommodations that would allow workers exempted from getting the vaccine to keep their jobs by working in a position or schedule that protects others from potential infection.

Those clashing data points highlight the tensions over Gov. Jay Inslee's order that state and school employees as well as thousands of health care workers get vaccinated by Oct. 18, or lose their jobs.

At least 8% of state workers subject to the mandate are seeking to avoid vaccination. If those employees left their jobs over the mandate, it could hobble government services, from the ferry systems to the foster-care program.

Now, Washington's state agencies are sifting through exemption applications, and making contingency plans in the event large numbers of workers quit or retire early.

Those agencies have created their own application forms for religious and medical exemptions based  on guidelines by the Inslee administration.

Some agencies' religious exemption forms are as simple as a few yes-or-no questions, asking whether the employee has a sincerely held religious belief that should prevent them from getting vaccinated.

Other agencies probe a little deeper, asking workers to explain their religious convictions and why an employee feels they should be exempt from getting their shots.

Spokespersons declined to name what types of religious faiths or denominations were being granted exemptions. Some said that information is not being tallied, while others said revealing that and other information would compromise their efforts.

In the end, who gets an exemption might not matter much: the real question is whether any of those people receive an accommodation to keep working.

So far, few accommodations have been issued that would keep unvaccinated workers on the job.

"You don't want to be like entangling yourself too much in people's religious beliefs, because what are you going to do with the information?" said University of Oregon School of Law professor Liz Tippett. "Are you going to decide their essay doesn't pass, if you don't like their essay?"

"Most of the work in the accommodation process should be like, can they be reasonably accommodated," she added. "And not like this in-depth examination of the nature and depth of their religious belief."

As of Sept. 6, state agencies received requests for at least 3,891 religious exemptions and 892 medical exemptions, according to state data released Tuesday. Of those, 737 religious requests were granted — but accommodations were made for only seven workers.

Meanwhile, 49 medical exemptions have been granted, with accommodations provided so far in the single digits.

Department of Transportation worker Sean Pierce said the agency has rejected his request for a religious exemption.

"They just said that they didn't believe that I was, I guess, basically religious enough," said Pierce, who described himself as a Christian without a particular denomination.

Pierce, who oversees two mechanics for the department in Colville, Stevens County, said he has heard from co-workers that their requests were approved.

"I joked that since I didn't get the religious one I must be a heathen or something," he said. Those co-workers told Pierce that even though their religious exemptions were granted, he said, their requests for accommodation were denied.

The Washington State Patrol hasn't yet found any practical accommodations for workers who have been granted religious exemptions, according to agency spokesperson Chris Loftis. The patrol has received least 327 applications for religious exemptions, according to state data.

That agency has approved every one of those requests that it has so far reviewed, according to Loftis, with roughly 100 applications still in the review process.

"Finding reasonable accommodations for such public facing positions and job classifications has proven very difficult," Loftis wrote in an email. "To date, no practical accommodations that meet the guidelines set by the state have been found and the reassignment options offered have been refused. So this is still a very fluid situation impacting many WSP employees."

All of the 22 medical exemptions so far requested by WSP employees have been granted, according to Loftis. Accommodations for six of those workers have been approved, while three have been denied, he wrote, "and 13 are still in review and discussion with the impacted employees."

The agency's decision against granting accommodations — which was first reported by conservative KTTH talk-show host Jason Rantz — was based on state workplace pandemic guidelines, according to Loftis.

Other agencies, like the Department of Enterprise Services, which oversees the Capitol campus, haven't yet weighed in on whether there will be other work for exempted employees, according to agency spokesperson Linda Kent.

"For approved requests — we've not yet gotten to the point of processing whether accommodations can be made on those," wrote Kent, whose agency has seen roughly 10% of its 724 workers request an exemption. "Once a person is approved for an exemption, the agency goes through a process of specifically evaluating the circumstances of the employee's position."

"In some instances, it may be determined that there is not a suitable accommodation and the employee would not be able to continue to work," added Kent, whose agency also performs services for government such as contracting, printing and risk management.

Washington has seen record numbers of COVID-19 cases, and related hospitalizations that have surged since July have begun to plateau, albeit at still-dangerous levels, state health officials said last week.

As of Sept. 6, a little under half of the 60,976 workers subject to the mandate had been verified as vaccinated, according to state data.

The real figure may be higher as workers continue to get verified. But the state data shows big differences between different state agencies.

Nearly three-quarters of Department of Health's workforce of 2,500 are vaccinated. More than 90% of Inslee's staff of 60 have gotten their shots.

At the same time, just under half of the 9,850 employees of the Department of Social and Health Services — one of Washington's largest state agencies — has been shown to be vaccinated.

Meanwhile, 47% of the Washington State Patrol's 2,220 workers have been verified as vaccinated. Four members of the patrol are currently hospitalized for COVID-19, according to Loftis.

The patrol "will not question or doubt the sincerity of those convictions and will respect the ultimate decisions made" of those seeking an exemption, Loftis wrote.

"But to be clear — we want our friends and employees to get vaccinated not just to save jobs but to save lives as well," he added. "Defeating COVID will take an all of society effort and we are all in this together."

Comments

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youngcontrarian

I can understand somewhat a medical exemption, but a religious exemption? Who gives a damn of your belief and why should it make any difference when it comes to protecting human life. To much respect is afforded people of faith for largely no good reason. Not masking and going un-vaccinated is selfish, ignorant, and dangerous.

Wednesday, September 22
Dennis h

Youngcontraian I take it your an non believer in Christ. Potty for you I will pray for you mybeleife is. Real you are not. You are a jackass

Thursday, September 23
youngcontrarian

It was a struggle to translate your comment but the last sentence wasn't. I'm actually a highly evolved primate, The fifth ape if you will. Cousins to chimpanzees, we humans share roughly 97% identical DNA. I take it you are a non-believer in Darwin.

Friday, September 24
Buz

YC, when dennis referred to you as a "jackass", maybe he was just referring to you as a democrat, and I just bet you are (a demo). I registered as a democrat in 1970 when my brain-- and thinking-- was not evolved to the extent that it is today. We should all be very alarmed at the rate our country is being overrun by ever expanding government control, big tech censorship, and corruption at the highest levels of the FBI, the CIA, the Justice Department, and the almost total symbiotic relationship the media has with the democrat party. They control the narrative that, sadly too many people just suck up and accept as gospel.

One of the greatest tools they have in their arsenal is ginning up a fear narrative, whether it be covid, or climate change. When people become fearful, or alarmed they become willing to give up more, and more of their rights. Once government imposes something, or takes your rights away, they don't give it back. World history is replete with plenty of examples.

Saturday, September 25
MedicalFreedom

"Under federal law, employers and universities cannot legally mandate COVID vaccines because they are unlicensed Emergency Use Authorization products which are, by definition, experimental...Long-term safety and efficacy have not been proven." https://childrenshealthdefense.org/defender/resources-federal-law-prohibits-mandates-emergency-use-covid-vaccines-tests-masks/

All of the COVID vaccines currently available and vigorously promoted by CDC, FDA, Big Pharma, Governor Inslee, Bill Gates and public health departments are experimental. "CHD argues that the licensure was a classic “bait and switch,” allowing Pfizer, the Biden administration, the U.S. military and employers to exhort people to take “licensed” vaccines when in fact the vaccines available and being administered continued to be the Pfizer-BioNTech Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) vaccines. ..According to the lawsuit, the FDA violated federal law when it simultaneously licensed Pfizer’s “Comirnaty” vaccine and extended Pfizer’s EUA for its vaccine that has the “same formulation” and that “can be used interchangeably,” according to the FDA." https://childrenshealthdefense.org/defender/childrens-health-defense-sues-fda-pfizer-comirnaty-covid-vaccine/

Studies show that COVID infection and recovery has produced robust immunity that could be long lasting. .Natural immunity has been used as a medical exemption in some cases outside of WA state, who fails to acknowledge natural immunity. https://sharylattkisson.com/2021/09/covid-19-natural-immunity-compared-to-vaccine-induced-immunity-the-definitive-summary/

Saturday, September 25
youngcontrarian

You lose that bet Buz. I'm a registered Republican but don't identify with the party. I was blind but now I see. Took a hard left about twenty years ago. Wish I had seen the light sooner. But never a left wing extremist or a Democrat, my conservative values balance my liberal tendencies. And what I saw from

Trump and his sycophants, I'm proud of myself for being capable of seeing what the GOP was becoming. This last presidency was a disgrace, putting it lightly.

Saturday, September 25