On Friday, May 21, the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) released new regulations that require employers to verify the vaccination status of workers in Washington. These new regulations are a state addition to the recently released CDC guidance that fully vaccinated employees do not need to wear masks. Employees who are not fully vaccinated must wear masks when they are not working alone. Employers in Washington are now in a position where they must comply quickly with this requirement.
While SEL encourages all employees who have access to the COVID-19 vaccine to get vaccinated, we oppose Governor Inslee’s requirement that Washington State employers verify our employees’ vaccine status.
Dr. Schweitzer sent the letter below to Governor Inslee and other state officials, including Labor and Industries, explaining our position:
May 22, 2021
The Honorable Jay Inslee
Office of the Governor
PO Box 40002
Olympia, WA 98504-0002
RE: Washington L&I Employer Vaccine Verification Guidelines
Dear Governor Inslee:
I am writing to you today, on behalf of our nearly 2,600 employee-owners in Washington, to urgently insist that the Department of Labor and Industries reconsider their recent employer vaccine verification requirements released yesterday, May 21, 2021.
You may view the regulation as necessary, but to us, it is an overreach by the government into our private lives. The key question is whether we trust each other; whether management trusts the employee-owners and whether they trust one another to act in a safe and healthy manner.
We are a company of scientists and engineers – and of individuals determined to remain healthy, safe, and productive. Following CDC guidelines, we required masks in the workplace during the pandemic until last week when, following CDC guidelines, we modified workplace rules to allow individuals who are fully vaccinated to remove their masks.
During the onset of the pandemic, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories (SEL) was designated as a critical manufacturer by both the federal and state governments. I’m proud that throughout the pandemic our employee-owners worked tirelessly to provide essential equipment and services vital to the safe and reliable operation of the power grid for our neighbors, hospitals, health care providers, public utilities, and countless other entities.
The health and wellbeing of our employees was and continues to be our number one priority. We successfully implemented physical distancing in every aspect of our production. We partnered with our facilities teams to implement additional sanitation practices and conducted thousands of COVID-19 tests not only for our employees but the community at large. With our strong partnership with Whitman County Health Officials, Washington State University, Pullman Regional Hospital, and many volunteers our clinic has vaccinated nearly 25,000 individuals.
The new state requirements make no change to health and safety procedures beyond those we have already implemented to keep everyone in the SEL family safe. The only change is that the state is now asking us to not trust employee-owners and to require written verification that a person has been vaccinated if they are not wearing a mask. Further, this record of vaccinated individuals would have to be made available at any time to Department of Labor and Industries inspectors.
This is something that goes against the decades of trust built among all of us working at SEL. On behalf of our employee-owners we must object to this wholesale intrusion of the state into our private medical records and health care choices.
Again, strictly adhering to CDC guidelines, every SEL employee who has not been vaccinated is required to wear a mask; there is no need to collect written verification and turn it over to the Department of Labor and Industries.
Thank you for your urgent attention to this misstep by the Department of Labor and Industries; and I look forward to discussing the matter further with you if you have any questions.
Edmund O. Schweitzer III, Ph.D.
President and Chief Technology Officer
Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories