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Hawaii employers are allowed to mandate vaccinations but are hesitant to do so

Published: Jul. 16, 2021 at 6:56 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 16, 2021 at 8:30 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A legal ruling in Texas is opening the door to mandatory vaccinations in Hawaii, according to Hawaii’s attorney general.

A federal judge allowed a Houston hospital to fire workers who refused to be vaccinated. The attorney general said that means the state can also require employees to get the shots.

Guidance from the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said employers generally have the legal right to make a requirement with certain exemptions.

The Hawaii Nurses Association said some hospitals are ordering certain nurses to disclose their vaccine status. The union said if hospitals mandate the vaccine, there wouldn’t be legal grounds to stop them.

“That’s something that we spoke with our lawyers about early on,” said Daniel Ross, the president of the Hawaii Nurses Association. “And they gave us advice that they thought we would not win if we fought that. What we would be able to do is bargain about how it’s done and how it’s handled.”

Hawaii Pacific Health said they have yet to make a requirement for the vaccine.

“We believe more information is needed before any decision is made about it being a requirement for staff,” said HPH spokesperson, Kristen Bonilla, in an email. “Although we do not require our employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine, we are proud that 84% of Hawaii Pacific Health employees are vaccinated.”

Bonilla said employee vaccine information is confidential, but they do keep a record.

A spokesperson with Queen’s Health Systems said they do not ask for vaccine information from employees — their vaccination rate is at 87%.

University of Hawaii epidemiology professor, DeWolfe Miller, said he’s surprised more employers are not asking and not requiring the vaccine.

“There just is not a rationale not to do it,” Miller said.

The state Department of Education, the University of Hawaii and the Department of Public Safety said they couldn’t even ask employees if they’re vaccinated because it’s medical information.

“The department would not mandate employees to share their vaccination status unless it was legally required as a condition of employment, and it is not,” said Krislyn Yano, a communications specialist with the Department of Education. “HIDOE does however encourage all eligible individuals to get vaccinated.”

Organizations said that if they did ask, they might not be able to do anything about it because of strict union contracts. For example, it can be difficult to change assignments, such as taking an unvaccinated guard away from a jail housing unit.

“We cannot do that because corrections officers get to bid on their posts every 16 weeks or 12 weeks,” said Tommy Johnson, the deputy director for corrections in the Department of Public Safety. “Based on seniority, they get to pick their post for their shifts.”

Despite certain setbacks, some said requiring vaccines in the workplace shouldn’t be a question.

“It’s not complicated, It’s very straightforward public health,” Miller said. “And it’s something we should be doing. I’m kind of surprised that we haven’t been there already.”

The attorney general said if there was a mandate, there would be exemptions for health and religious reasons.

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