Disney halts vaccine mandate after Florida’s ban

Walt Disney World, Orlando, FL — Courtesy: Shutterstock — Jerome Labouyrie

The Walt Disney Company has put a halt to its coronavirus vaccine mandate for employees of its Florida theme park after the State Legislature and governor made it illegal for employers to require all workers to get vaccinated, a company spokesperson confirmed on Saturday.

Walt Disney World could have faced several fines under the policy, presenting how even one of the biggest and well-known tourism brands in the Sunshine State still has to deal with the effects of political debate over the pandemic response.

The Republican-controlled Florida Legislature delivered the bill blocking all COVID-19 vaccine mandates on Wednesday, followed by Governor Ron DeSantis signing it into law on Thursday as an effort to protect workers who could lose their jobs for lack of compliance.

Governor DeSantis has been at the forefront of the back-and-forth fight to curtail both mask and vaccine mandates, stating that the push against those restrictions counters overreach from the federal government. “Nobody should lose their job due to heavy-handed Covid mandates, and we had a responsibility to protect the livelihoods of the people of Florida,” the governor said in a statement.

The Biden administration has ordered vaccination requirements for workers in large companies and members of the federal workforce, but the effort has dealt with resistance across the country. Florida is among the states that have challenged federal mandates in court.

The new Florida law prohibits employers from enforcing stricter vaccine mandates, allowing employees to choose exemptions that include religious or health concerns, pregnancy or future pregnancy, and in the case of recovering from the virus already. Unvaccinated employees can opt to undergo periodic testing or wear protective equipment, at the employers’ discretion. Fines could cost $10,000 a day per employee violation for businesses with less than 99 employees, or up to $50,000 per employee violation for even larger companies.

School districts and government entities are also restricted by the COVID mandate ban.

In order to keep their jobs, Disney World previously struck a deal with employees to require all theme park workers to be fully vaccinated against the virus, and the company defended that rule in a statement on Saturday: “We believe that our approach to mandatory vaccines has been the right one as we’ve continued to focus on the safety and well-being of our cast members and guests,” the statement said.

More than 90 percent of active Florida cast members have verified that they are vaccinated, a company said, before it sent a memo to employees pausing the mandate.

Walt Disney’s website tells visitors it has been “very intentional and gradual” in operating safely, recommending guests exercise caution: wearing face coverings, checking for symptoms, and getting the shots. “We encourage people to get vaccinated,” it says.

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