COVID vaccine: Milwaukee County worker mandate

Milwaukee County officials announced a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for county employees on Friday, Sept. 3.

The mandate will take effect via administrative order and will be considered by the county board later in September.

The order would require workers to submit proof of vaccination – or a completed medical or religious exemption form – no later than Oct. 1. The policy would not immediately apply to unionized county employees, which are deputies and firefighters.

"This also makes sure that we protect the county employees who serve hundreds of thousands of county residents every day," said County Executive David Crowley.

The vaccination requirement, or approved accommodation, would become a condition of employment for any current and future job openings – excluding jobs with the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office.

Those who do not comply with the requirement could face a number of consequences:

  • Unable to get voluntary overtime
  • Possible suspension without pay for up to 10 days
  • Possible impact on decision making about promotions, raises
  • County health care plan $20 surcharge starting in 2022
  • Termination

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Consequences aside, the county will offer workers incentives to get the vaccine.

"You always want to reward good behavior, so we know it's again a combination of incentives, of consequences," Crowley said. "When you think about other places that have really focused on getting their vaccination rates up high, they’ve had to provide some incentives."

Milwaukee County will offer employees who get vaccinated:

  • Up to 8 hours extra paid time off
  • $50 bonus
  • $25 bonus for encouraging another worker to get vaccinated.

Attorney, worker concerns

Attorney Michael Anderson is fighting for other Wisconsin workers opposed to COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

"I believe there’s substantial federal law, state law on the employment side, as well as constitutional arguments for why an employer should not predicate employment upon a person being forced to put something in their body that they don’t want to," said Anderson.

The Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said federal laws: "Do not prevent an employer from requiring all employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19, subject to the reasonable accommodation provisions…."

"There’s better ways for an employer to try to promote a vaccinated and safe workforce, there’s the carrots, there’s the incentives," Anderson said.

The county does not have a perfect estimate of how many of its more than 4,000 workers are vaccinated, but estimates it is more than 50%.

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