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Leon County contests $3.5M fine over employee COVID vaccination requirement

 County Administrator Vince Long (center) at the county's emergency COVID-19 meeting on Sept. 7, 2021. Long has defended the legality of the county's employee vaccination mandate.
WFSU
County Administrator Vince Long (center) at the county's emergency COVID-19 meeting on Sept. 7, 2021. Long has defended the legality of the county's employee vaccination mandate.

Leon County is contesting a $3.5 million fine from the Florida Department of Health. The county was penalized after it enforced its employee COVID-19 vaccination requirement.

Leon County is contesting a $3.5 million fine from the state over its employee COVID-19 vaccination requirement.

On Monday, the county filed a petition with the Florida Department of Health, arguing the department misapplied a state statute that bans local governments from forcing people to show vaccination proof “to gain access to, entry upon or service from” its operations.

The department fined the county $5,000 for each of the 714 employees who either showed vaccination proof or were terminated for refusing to comply.

The county fired 14 employees for refusing to show vaccination proof by Oct. 1. But the county argues the move didn’t violate state law.

“At no time did Leon County deny any person access to, entry upon or service from its operations for failure to provide any documentation certifying COVID-19 vaccination or post-infection recovery,” the petition reads.

Instead the county refused to pay employees who failed to show vaccination proof and lacked a medical or religious exemption, which the state’s policy doesn’t explicitly prohibit.
The county also notes that it’s an at-will employer, meaning it may fire workers with or without cause.

The county maintains it had the authority to adopt public health policy to mitigate the rising COVID-19 cases in the summer.

The county’s legal approach to defying the will of the governor is the latest in a series of lawsuits involving the state over its ban on school mask requirements. The state is also suing the Biden administration over its requirement that federal workers get vaccinated.

Gov. Ron DeSantis last week called lawmakers into session early to strengthen state laws against COVID-19 vaccination and mask requirements, as litigation involving his administration’s efforts to block those policies plays out in court.

“In addition to mounting aggressive legal challenges to federal mandates, we’re also going to be taking legislative action to add protections for people in the state of Florida," DeSantis said at a press conference last month. "And that’s something that cannot wait until the regular legislative session next year."

The special session begins on Nov. 15, weeks before the regular session starts.

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