Wednesday, 01 September 2021 20:29

Rockingham institutes mandatory vaccination policy for city employees

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Rockingham institutes mandatory vaccination policy for city employees RO file photo

ROCKINGHAM — City employees have three options: get the COVID vaccine; get tested weekly; or face the consequences.

City Manager Monty Crump issued a memo to employees Monday, giving them until Oct. 15 to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. Any city worker not vaccinated by that date must provide weekly test results to their department head and the human resources office.

The testing must be on the employees’ own dime and time — “and not on City working hours.”

Employees who qualify for an exemption are to provide the department head and HR office with “the required documents.”

Those who are currently vaccinated are instructed to provide copies of their vaccination cards.

Failure to comply with the policy “will lead to disciplinary action including termination.”

Crump told the RO that the city’s policy “closely mirrors” that of the state.

Starting Wednesday, all state Cabinet employees must be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing, pursuant to Executive Order 224.

In that order, Cooper encourages all other state and local government agencies to adopt similar policies.

“Roughly half of city employees are vaccinated and I am receiving feedback from vaccinated employees that have concerns about working with unvaccinated employees,” Crump said. “Additionally, we have had several recent workplace cases and, when that happens, quarantines are costly in overtime and loss time which costs taxpayers’ dollars.”

Crump said the issue comes down to a question of risk management in the workplace, adding that “vaccines have proven to be an effective risk management tool for COVID-19.”

“COVID-19 continues to present ongoing challenges and there is no silver bullet or right or wrong answer. I wish there was,” Crump said. “We will work (through) this. We do not want to close our facilities again which reduces public accessibility and (affects) public services.”

Crump added that the policy is temporary, but will be in effect until further notice and is subject to change.

Mayor Steve Morris echoed Crump’s sentiments on the policy.

COVID cases involving city employees have led to “lots of overtime,” he said. “It’s been very expensive.”

Morris also said that it wasn’t fair to those who have been vaccinated to be put at risk by working next to someone someone who isn't.

According to Interim Health Director Cheryl Speight, 11.5% of the 752 patients who tested positive from July 24-Aug. 23 were fully vaccinated.

Morris said employees “still have a choice, but there are consequences” if they don’t get the shot or pay to get tested weekly.

At least one City Council member disagrees with the policy.

“I’m very proud of our employees, most of whom have been with us for years and years,” said Mayor Pro Tem John Hutchinson. “We should trust them to make the right choices for themselves and for their coworkers without fear of punishment.”

Hutchinson added that he prefers incentives.

Hamlet City Manager Matthew Christian told the RO Tuesday evening that there are currently no plans for mandatory vaccines there. However, at the time, he was working on an incentives policy.

County Manager Bryan Land said Wednesday that no decision has been made regarding mandating the vaccine for county workers.

A bill to prohibit mandatory vaccinations — supported by Moore County Rep. James Boles — was introduced in the N.C. House of Representatives in April, but records show it never left the Health Committee.

Another House bill was soon after filed that would have prevented most state, county and municipal employees from being terminated for refusal to take the vaccine. It too has not moved from the Health Committee.

Several hospital systems in the state — including Atrium Health and Novant Health — have passed mandatory vaccination policies, multiple media outlets report.

Those policy changes led to a protest by health workers and a letter of opposition from state legislators.

While FirstHealth encourages its employees to be vaccinated, the regional healthcare system does not currently require it, according to Public Relations Director Emily Sloan. She added that FirstHealth will continue to evaluate the situation and will announce any changes if or when they’re made.

House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said the decision to vaccinate should be left up to individuals and their doctors.

“Our healthcare workers are certainly capable of weighing the risks and benefits and can make their own decision about the vaccine,” Moore said. “This mandate could force healthcare workers to choose between their employment and their conscience. Now is not the time to risk losing any of our healthcare workers who have been at the front lines of this pandemic.”

In the June issue of Business North Carolina, Grant B. Osborne wrote about mandatory vaccinations in the private sector.

Osborne, a labor and employment attorney with Ward & Smith, said while mandatory vaccinations may be lawful, they could “produce unintended consequences, such as alienated employees and potential legal disputes.”

“Thoughtful employers may therefore opt for a policy that merely encourages employees to get the jab,” Osborne continued. “That may yield almost as many vaccinations as the mandatory approach — and may do more to enhance company cohesion and team-spirit in these troubled times.

“A clear written policy, in either case, should be prepared and implemented, after the employer has decided which approach best suits its goals.”