Disney Pauses Worker Vaccine Mandate After Florida Ban

The company’s theme park in Florida, Walt Disney World, could have been facing fines after the State Legislature made vaccine requirements illegal.,

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Disney pauses its worker vaccine mandate after Florida’s ban.

The Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., last December. Disney has urged visitors to exercise caution and wear masks in the park.Credit…Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via Associated Press

By Victor Manuel Ramos

Published Nov. 20, 2021Updated Nov. 22, 2021, 7:20 a.m. ET

The Walt Disney Company has paused a coronavirus vaccine mandate for employees of its Florida theme park after the State Legislature and the governor made it illegal for employers to require all workers get the shots, a company spokesperson confirmed Saturday.

Walt Disney World could have been facing fines under the policy, illustrating how even one of the most well-known tourism brands in the state has to deal with the headwinds of political debate over the pandemic response.

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7-day average

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Source: State and local health agencies. Daily cases are the number of new cases reported each day. The seven-day average is the average of a day and the previous six days of data.

The Republican-controlled Florida Legislature delivered the bill blocking Covid-19 vaccine mandates on Wednesday and Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into law on Thursday, casting the measures as an effort to protect workers who could lose their jobs for lack of compliance.

Governor DeSantis, also a Republican, has been at the forefront of the political fight to curtail mask and vaccine mandates, saying the push against those restrictions counters overreach from the federal government. “Nobody should lose their job due to heavy-handed Covid mandates, and we had a responsibility to protect the livelihoods of the people of Florida,” the governor said in a statement.

The Biden administration has ordered vaccinations for workers in large companies and members of the federal work force, but the effort has met resistance across the country. Florida is among states that have challenged federal mandates in court.

The new Florida law prohibits employers from enforcing strict vaccine mandates, allowing employees to choose exemptions that include health or religious concerns, pregnancy or anticipated pregnancy, and having had the virus and recovered from it. Unvaccinated workers could instead undergo periodic testing or wear protective equipment, at the employers’ cost. Fines for violation could cost $10,000 a day per employee violation for businesses with fewer than 99 employees or up to $50,000 per employee violation for larger businesses.

Government entities and school districts are also restricted by the Covid mandate ban.

Disney World previously struck a deal with employees to require theme park workers to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus to keep their jobs, and the company defended that rule in a statement Saturday. “We believe that our approach to mandatory vaccines has been the right one as we’ve continued to focus on the safety and well-being of our cast members and guests,” the statement said.

More than 90 percent of active cast members in Florida have verified they are vaccinated, the company said, before it sent a memo to employees halting the mandate.

Walt Disney’s website tells visitors it has been “very intentional and gradual” in operating safely, recommending guests exercise caution: wearing face coverings, checking for symptoms and getting the shots. “We encourage people to get vaccinated,” it says.

Todd Gregory contributed to this report.

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