Disney "pauses" vaccine mandate in Florida

(AP Photo/John Raoux, File)

The empire of the mouse may still want its workers to dress up in silly costumes every day but, at least for now, they won’t have to provide proof of COVID vaccination to keep their jobs at Disney World in Florida. Disney has had a vaccination mandate in place for a while now, but following the passage of a new law blocking such public policies and Governor Ron DeSantis signing it, a “pause” on the mandate will be in place while the inevitable court challenges are sorted out. The company sent out a memo to the staff this week stating that they still fully endorse the idea of all employees being vaccinated, but enforcement of the policy will be put on hold until further notice. (NY Post)

Disney World near Orlando, Florida, operated by Walt Disney Co., has put its COVID-19 vaccination mandate on hold, a spokesperson said on Saturday.

The move comes amid the Biden administration’s workplace COVID-19 vaccine rule, which requires businesses with at least 100 employees to require staff get vaccinated against COVID-19 or be tested weekly and wear a face covering at work.

Local TV station Fox 35 was first to report the news, citing a cast member at the resort complex.

You can read the full memo that Disney sent out here. The memo appears to be very carefully worded, particularly when it comes to the potentially temporary nature of this “pause.” They also stress that unvaccinated workers will not be treated the same as vaccinated workers and those who choose to get the vaccine are still free to register with Disney’s immunity passport system.

On top of that, all pending requests for religious or medical exemptions from the mandate are being put on hold. They will resume processing the requests if and when the mandate goes back into effect. Here’s the relevant portion:

“As we assess the full impact of this new legislation, we are immediately pausing the enforcement of our mandatory vaccination policy for Florida-based Cast Members and employees until further notice.

“All Florida-based Cast Members and employees who have not verified full vaccination will be required to follow our safety protocols for unvaccinated Cast Members, including face coverings and physical distancing.

“While Florida-based Cast Members and employees do not currently have to verify vaccination status, they may still do so through the TrustAssure process. Cast Members and employees who do not verify vaccination status through the TrustAssure process will be considered as unvaccinated.

Here’s the first question that comes to mind, at least for me. Disney is saying that they measured a “surge” in people registering their proof of vaccination as the deadline for the mandate approached. Now it’s on hold. What if it becomes permanent after the courts are finished with the question and the vaccines can’t be made mandatory for workers in Florida? (Or any other state for that matter.) Among that late surge of vaccinated workers, I would imagine there are quite a few who neither trusted nor wanted that vaccine put in their bodies but decided to do it so they wouldn’t lose their livelihood. Doesn’t that seem like a rather obvious assumption?

If so, what happens to them? As we’ve discussed here previously when similar questions arose, you can’t go out and get yourself “unvaccinated” after the shot goes into your arm. Can Disney be held liable for forcing those vaccinations on the unwilling while allowing everyone who held out until this new law went into effect to not wind up having to do it? That may have been an unintentional consequence on the part of Disney’s management, but the effect on the workers remains the same.

Perhaps another question for the affected employees to look into (along with their attorneys) is the issue of the masking policy. Unvaccinated workers will still have to wear face masks and practice social distancing while their vaccinated colleagues are under no such restrictions. That’s unequal treatment of their employees no matter what the intent may have been.

In any event, the debate over mandatory vaccinations, face masks, and immunity passports is clearly a marathon rather than a sprint. I suppose we’ll take some small victories where we find them.