WADENA — Wadena County is set to follow the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements on COVID-19 vaccination and testing for county employees. The first step in place is employees reporting their vaccination status to the human resources department.
What is the requirement?
The OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard requires employers of 100 or more employees to set a policy for mandatory vaccination or weekly testing and face coverings in the workplace for employees who are not vaccinated. Wadena County’s policy would follow the second option of testing and face coverings.
The United States Supreme Court is set to have oral arguments on the vaccine mandates on Jan. 7. Commissioners approved the policy contingent on a Supreme Court decision. Commissioner Jon Kangas voted against. Commissioner Sheldon Monson was not present and county coordinator Ryan Odden joined via phone.
Employees are to submit their vaccination status of fully vaccinated, partially vaccinated or not vaccinated by Jan. 10. For unvaccinated employees, a statement on receiving the vaccine or a statement on not planning to receive the vaccine will also be needed.
Who does the requirement apply to?
All county employees are to follow the policy. For employees who work in offices without fellow co-workers or customers, work from home or only outdoors, the policy does not apply. Employees who do not work weekly in the office are required to test seven days prior to returning to the office if they have not received the vaccine.
For medical and religious exemptions and accommodations, employees can contact HR.
If the Supreme Court takes up the case and removes the ETS, the county policy would not be followed. If the Supreme Court rules to follow the ETS, the county policy would be implemented based on any changes required federally and as set by the board. The county can also set more restrictive rules but must meet the minimum requirements, as county attorney Kyra Ladd explained. The minimum requirements are reporting vaccination status and testing and face coverings for unvaccinated employees.
The county is waiting on more guidance following any litigation prior to implementing the remainder of the policy on testing and masking. OSHA encourages a “good faith effort” in setting and implementing the policy.
How is the county keeping track of employee’s vaccination status?
Employees will submit their vaccination status through the county’s HR software Paycom. The online account allows employees to enter their vaccine information, including which vaccine they received, when, vaccination provider and their vaccination card. Employees can also submit test results, including what type of test, the result, date and testing result image. The HR specialist is the only person who will have access to the information.
While a paper list for each department was also suggested, the online option was determined as most private. Odden said Paycom is a less expensive option than staff manually collecting the data. The yearly fee is $1,700. The cost will be covered with American Rescue Plan Act funds.
For required reports to OSHA, the HR specialist can create a report through Paycom showing the number of employees vaccinated and not vaccinated that does not include names.
Are there other requirements?
For employees who elect to receive the vaccine, employees can use duty time for receiving the vaccine as well as sick leave if they have side effects from the vaccine. Employees also must report a positive COVID-19 test result regardless of vaccination status, and meet the return to work criteria.
The board will further discuss testing, including if employees or the county will pay for testing, at the Feb. 8 meeting. Odden is also continuing discussions on the policy with the labor attorney.
While commissioners asked for more time on starting certain aspects, the policy needed to be in place by Jan. 10. Commissioners do not agree with the policy requirement and hope future discussions will remove the policy. The county testing and masking requirement for unvaccinated employees was updated to Feb. 9.
The questions focused on when the policy starts and who will enforce it as well as the constitutionality of the federal requirement. Kangas added both vaccinated and unvaccinated employees should be tested to create fairness. He said the policy is about “control” and not following evidence or science. Vaccinated people can have COVID-19 and spread the virus, though vaccines help prevent severe disease and death. The mortality rate for unvaccinated people is far higher than those who are vaccinated.
Ladd noted how funding, such as grants, could include provisions on following the vaccination policy. If the county did not follow the policy, the county could lose funding. The county budget of about $30 million comes from taxpayers ($10 million) and federal and state aid ($20 million).
Commissioners also noted what the next requirements could include, such as New York having vaccination passes to enter restaurants and United Arab Emirates airlines requiring vaccinations to travel.
The board plans to discuss the vaccination policy on Feb. 8.