City DopeNews

Commission Passes Employee Vaccine Mandate, but It Lacks Teeth

Athens-Clarke County Manager Blaine Williams.

The Athens-Clarke County Commission approved a policy last week requiring ACC employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19, but there are no penalties for those who ignore the requirement.

Last month, commissioners instructed Manager Blaine Williams to develop a vaccine requirement for county employees. Williams submitted a proposal before the Sept. 7 commission meeting setting a Nov. 10 deadline to be vaccinated and offering incentives to get the COVID shot, but several commissioners pointed out that there were no consequences for employees who refuse.

Commissioner Jesse Houle proposed adding “progressive discipline” for employees who won’t be vaccinated, up to and including termination. “It’s missing one key element, which is what happens when people don’t comply,” Houle said.

However, other commissioners approved Williams’ policy as written, with no discipline laid out in the policy. The vote was 6-1, with commissioners Allison Wright, Ovita Thornton and Mariah Parker absent. (Parker recently gave birth to a son, Aesop.)

“This policy as written is not a mandate,” said Commissioner Melissa Link, who nonetheless voted for it after unsuccessfully trying to add a clause requiring unvaccinated employees to wear N95 masks. 

Commissioner Carol Myers said she was apprehensive about using the term “mandate” and preferred the less loaded “directive.” Myers said she was worried about employee morale. “I hear more and more examples of people resigning, quitting,” she said. “There is a lot of misinformation out there, as we’d all agree with.”

Link and Commissioner Russell Edwards countered that morale is also suffering among ACC employees who don’t know if their coworkers are vaccinated and are worried about catching the virus.

“The scope and scale of this pandemic grows each day with this more contagious variant, and so I believe it’s important for us as policymakers to, at times, take a courageous stand for the health and protection of, above all else, our employees, the folks who work for this government,” Edwards said, before it became clear that he, Link and Houle lacked the votes to add teeth to the policy.

“The only way out of this pandemic is getting 75%, 80% of the populace inoculated one way or another. Either that’s through getting vaccinated or them getting COVID, filling up our hospitals, having more deaths,” Commissioner Tim Denson said. However, he also said he was hesitant to add anything to the policy for fear of sowing confusion, and proposed tabling it but won little support.

The policy offers employees who have already gotten or get a COVID vaccine by Nov. 10 $200 and two days off work. As Link pointed out, though, ACC is already partnering with the Clarke County Health Department to offer up to $200 to be vaccinated, so another $200 may not be much of an incentive. Eventually, commissioners except Houle agreed to see how the incentives work and revisit the issue in a month or two.