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Chesterfield official requiring all employees to be vaccinated: Termination is last resort

Jenefer Hughes: 'I don’t want to lose a single person'
Vurus Outbreak New York Vaccine
Posted at 5:28 PM, Jun 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-10 18:16:32-04

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- A Chesterfield elected official is requiring her employees receive a COVID-19 vaccination before returning to the workplace or possibly face termination.

Chesterfield County Commissioner of the Revenue Jenefer Hughes sent a letter to an employee on June 7 writing that she placed that employee on “corrective action” for failing to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Hughes wrote that her employees must get vaccinated before June 30 or potentially face disciplinary action up to termination unless that employee is approved for a medical or religious exemption.

“I can’t live with myself if there’s any risk of taxpayer or employee coming into my office potentially contracting the virus and taking it to their families. I just can’t,” Hughes told CBS 6 on Thursday.

The letter stated that since her department is a “customer facing organization” they must ensure the office is safe and healthy for employees and taxpayers. Hughes said she notified her staff of her policy verbally several months ago and in emails dated April 22, May 10, and May 19.

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Mass vaccination clinic at Virginia National Guard Armory

RELATED: Can your employer require the COVID-19 vaccine?

State Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield) shared the letter on her personal Facebook page on Wednesday urging her followers to call Hughes’ office.

“THIS has to stop!!” Chase posted.

Hughes said she’s received a handful of emails and calls complaining about her new policy.

Approximately 82 percent of Hughes’ staff is vaccinated or going through the process. Those who received exemptions or accommodations will wear masks in the office.

“I’ll bend over backwards to help them get to a place where we can retain them,” Hughes explained.

Termination is a last resort, she said.

“I don’t want to lose a single person,” Hughes stated.

A Chesterfield County spokesperson said in a statement that the county cannot require Commissioner Hughes to change her vaccination policy.

“Ms. Hughes is a constitutional officer who was elected to her position and does not report to the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors or County Administrator. While Chesterfield has not mandated its employees be vaccinated, the county is not in a position of authority over the Commissioner of the Revenue,” the spokesperson said.

Anyone who believes a constitutional officer is discriminating against them or violating their civil rights may report their concern to the Office of the Attorney General to have it investigated, according to the county spokesperson.

Nick Woodfield serves as Principal and General Counsel of The Employment Law Group, P.C. based in DC.

An employer can require vaccinations before returning to the workplace even if the vaccines received emergency approval.

“Employers have not only a right but a duty to not create a dangerous workplace,” he explained. “I think this is the harbinger of what is to come."

Woodfield believed a judge would side with the business owner if the matter was taken to court. He said even if someone receives a vaccine exemption their boss can still let them go.

“That doesn’t mean you have a right to be a vector in the workplace,” Woodfield stated. “The employer can still exclude you because you’re no longer qualified to be there since you are potentially a danger in the workplace.”

CBS 6 asked Gov. Ralph Northam to weigh in.

“From the Governor’s position I’m not mandating anyone to get vaccinated,” he responded.

Northam said he’s left those policies up to the discretion of employers whether to mandate the shots.

“We have three effective and safe vaccines and the only way to get this pandemic in the rear-view mirror is for folks to get out there and get vaccinated,” Northam stated.

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Mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Richmond Raceway.

Virginians age 12+ are eligible for COVID-19 vaccine. Pre-registration is no longer required, so go to Vaccine Finder to search for specific vaccines available near you or call 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-275-8343).

Depend on CBS 6 News and WTVR.com for the most complete coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Have You Been Fully Vaccinated?

People are considered fully vaccinated:

  • 2 weeks after their second dose in a 2-dose series, such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or
  • 2 weeks after a single-dose vaccine, such as Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine
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What you can and should not do once you have been fully vaccinated.

How to Protect Yourself and Others When You’ve Been Fully Vaccinated

COVID-19 vaccines are effective at protecting you from getting sick. Based on what we know about COVID-19 vaccines, people who have been fully vaccinated can start to do some things that they had stopped doing because of the pandemic.

We’re still learning how vaccines will affect the spread of COVID-19. After you’ve been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, you should keep taking precautions—like wearing a mask, staying 6 feet apart from others, and avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces—in public places until we know more.

These recommendations can help you make decisions about daily activities after you are fully vaccinated. They are not intended for healthcare settings.

Click here for more information from the Virginia Department of Health.