Sarasota government employees aren't mandated to get vaccinated against COVID-19

Anne Snabes
Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Sarasota County and the city of Sarasota aren’t requiring their employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 – which is in line with a law recently passed by the Florida Legislature.

Last month, the Legislature passed a bill that prohibits government entities from mandating employee vaccinations. The Florida Department of Health may fine employers as much as $5,000 for each staff member subject to the vaccination mandate.

But even before this bill passed, neither city of Sarasota staff members nor Sarasota County employees had to get inoculated against COVID-19. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone 5 years and older get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Background: What happened in the LegislaSpecial Session

More:New laws could put companies in difficult position if federal vaccine mandates hold

County Administrator Jonathan Lewis said that since the beginning of the pandemic, the county has taken the position that the Sarasota community and county employees are “smart, competent people.” The county isn’t tracking how many of its employees have gotten vaccinated.

Sarasota County Administrator Jonathan Lewis.

"We’ve provided education and access to the CDC and health department information,” he said. “But we’ve counted on our community and our employees – who are a reflection of our community – to be smart through this.”

The county has taken this approach – where they provide employees with access to public health information but allow them to make their own decision – both in terms of masks and vaccinations. The county has not mandated its employees to wear masks at any point in the pandemic.

Sarasota City manager Marlon Brown said his administration doesn’t require COVID-19 vaccinations because the vaccine is readily available and because many employees are getting inoculated even without a mandate.

Sarasota city manager Marlon Brown.

The city of Sarasota doesn’t know how many of its staff members have been vaccinated, but Brown believes the percentage is high.

“Just hearing the chatter among the employees, it seems like most of them – and to me, I would think it’s a high percentage of them – have been vaccinated and have been taking advantage of the readily available vaccinations,” the city manager noted.

He said that within his office, employees say they’re taking advantage of COVID-19 boosters. Everyone 16 years and older is now eligible for a booster shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Promoting vaccination

While Sarasota isn’t requiring COVID vaccination, it has encouraged its staff to get the shots. Brown has meetings with the heads of city departments, which sometimes include updates on COVID. He encourages the department heads to talk to their employees about getting vaccinated and, if they’re immunocompromised, wearing a mask.  

There are also signs around City Hall that promote COVID-19 vaccination to the public and city employees.

Lewis said that Sarasota County leadership has continued to ask people to consider getting the vaccine and talk to their medical professionals about whether it’s right for them. And if they don’t get it, the county advises them to take the appropriate precautions, according to Lewis.

County leadership has also told employees that they need to be at work to provide a public service.

“While some have made a personal choice not to get vaccinated, your choice cannot impact our service to the community,” Lewis said in a memo sent to county employees in May.

He told the Herald-Tribune that an employee can’t serve the community if they’re under quarantine.

Lewis said the county also allows employees to get vaccinated during their paid work hours.

OSHA rules

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued rules that require companies with 100 or more employees to get vaccinated or take COVID-19 tests regularly. But these rules don’t apply to Sarasota County government or the city of Sarasota, two major employers in the county.

This is because the rules only apply to local governments in states with OSHA-approved workplace safety and health programs that are operated by the state. Florida isn’t one of these states – it doesn’t have its own workforce safety program. The federal government – specifically OSHA – monitors employee safety in Florida.

Anne Snabes covers city and county government for the Herald-Tribune. You can contact her at asnabes@gannett.com or (941) 228-3321 and follow her on Twitter at @a_snabes.