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Mandates vs. medical autonomy: New York, Florida diverge on public health, personal freedom

As New Yorkers lose jobs over vaccine mandate, Florida employers can be fined for imposing them.

Published: December 8, 2021 11:28pm

Updated: December 8, 2021 11:53pm

In what is playing out as a study in contrasts between two states that couldn't be more different, New Yorkers are continuing to lose their jobs over a vaccine mandate, while Floridians can have their employers fined for imposing them. 

Under a mandate announced Monday by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, private sector employees citywide must be vaccinated by Dec. 27 or lose their jobs — or their employers risk hefty fines. A separate de Blasio vaccine mandate applying to city public sector employees was suspended Wednesday by a New York judge pending a hearing Dec. 14.

New York Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul, meanwhile, made sure that the state's healthcare workers — lionized as heroes just last year — won't be eligible for unemployment benefits if fired for noncompliance with a mandate. 

In  Florida, by contrast, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis last month signed a law banning vaccine mandates, and employees in Florida can now rat out employers that violate the law. Instead of employees losing their jobs, their employers can be fined up to $5,000 per violation. Some healthcare workers in Florida are already being reinstated to positions they lost, and one of the state's largest hospital systems announced it was ending its vaccine mandate.

A new online complaint form was published Friday on the Florida attorney general's website, making it easy for employees to file a complaint. The form lists questions related to employers not offering or approving five exemptions mandated by the state. 

Unlike New York, which eliminated the religious exemption, the Florida law requires private sector employers to offer five exemptions: religious, medical, natural immunity, periodic testing compliance, or using personal protective equipment. 

In addition to the online form for employees, the Florida Department of Legal Affairs issued an emergency rule and other additional guidance for employers on Friday. The law, which applies to employers of all sizes, became effective when it was signed on Nov. 19 and remains effective until June 1, 2023, unless it's extended.

"This is the strongest piece of legislation that's been enacted anywhere in the country in this regard," said DeSantis upon signing the bill into law.

"We are respecting people's individual freedom in this state," he added.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, who has sued the Biden administration over the vaccine mandate, celebrated the fact that there are now nationwide injunctions on all three of President Joe Biden's "unlawful vaccine mandates — including the most recent order out of the Southern District of Georgia pertaining to federal contractors."

She also said Florida was fighting to protect its healthcare system "from the damage that will be caused as a result of the unlawful [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] vaccine mandate," referring to the Biden mandate on health care workers for certified Medicare/Medicaid providers and suppliers.

Since the online private employer complaint form went live, complaints about employers are rolling in, said Lauren Cassedy, a spokesperson for the attorney general's office.

Meanwhile, the federal court injunctions against the Biden vaccine mandates are already having an impact. One of Florida's largest hospital systems announced it ended its vaccine mandates "due to the recent decisions by the federal courts to block the CMS vaccine mandate." 

As of Dec. 2, Advent Health no longer requires its 83,000 employees to receive the COVID-19 shots as a condition for employment. 

Advent Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Neil Finkler said the hospital system not only suspended its vaccination requirement but is also no longer processing any new requests for exemptions. 

Dropping its mandate policy, however, didn't change Advent Health's requirement for staff to declare their COVID-19 vaccination status with their medical staff office. In a letter to employees, Finkler wrote, "While you are not required to receive the vaccine or to apply for an exemption, medical staff members must report their current vaccination status."

In response to AdventHealth's decision, DeSantis' office issued a statement, saying, "We welcome AdventHealth's decision to comply with state law to protect Floridians' jobs and to ensure our state's healthcare system can continue functioning smoothly."

Some Florida doctors who refused to comply with a vaccine mandate and lost their jobs have since been reinstated. One, whose employer hasn't been made public, was lauded by DeSantis in a tweet

"Jeff, a Florida doctor I met in Brandon at the Special Session bill signing, was suspended from his job due to Biden's mandate. He has now been reinstated due to our efforts to stop this heavy-handed federal mandate. Freedom has a home here in Florida."

DeSantis signed the legislation prohibiting vaccine mandates in Brandon, Fla. Many pundits inferred that the location choice was a nod to the "Let's Go Brandon" phrase chanted by Americans throughout the U.S. referring to Biden in a derogatory way.

While Floridians are going to work without fear, Hochul released a comprehensive plan to address statewide staffing shortages in hospitals and health care facilities resulting from employees being fired for not complying with the state's vaccine mandate.

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