ORLANDO, Fla. — Disney has paused its vaccine mandate for Florida employees in response to restrictions passed by the Legislature earlier this week limiting employers’ power to require worker vaccination.
A memo sent to Disney employees Friday said the company was taking that action immediately because of the state legislation and an appeal court’s temporary delay of federal vaccination guidelines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
“We remain confident in the approach we have taken with our mandatory vaccine policy for Florida-based Cast Members and employees, with more than 90% of our active Florida-based Cast members and employees having verified that they are fully vaccinated, and we consider this to be very successful,” the memo read.
The memo said Disney, Central Florida’s largest single-site employer, will require all employees who had not verified they were fully vaccinated to wear face coverings and observe social distancing, among other safety protocols.
The company also is pausing consideration of vaccine exemption requests from employees and will deem employees who had not yet finished the vaccination verification process unvaccinated for the time being.
Earlier this year, the company gave non-union workers until Sept. 28 to complete their COVID vaccine course. Unionized workers, who reached a deal with the company nearly a month afterward, had until Oct. 22 to be fully vaccinated and provide proof of vaccination to Disney.
Under one of the bills Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Thursday aimed at limiting employers’ abilities to carry out vaccine mandates, employers must allow workers who agree to regular testing and wearing protective gear to be exempt from required vaccination, along with employees who have recovered from COVID-19.
The law also requires employers to allow religious or medical exemptions under vaccine mandates, something Disney already included in its requirements.
Disney spokeswoman Andrea Finger told the Orlando Sentinel on Saturday the company will “address legal developments as appropriate” in response to the legislation.
Disney has not said if the company has disciplined or fired employees under its vaccination policy.
Christina Pushaw, a spokeswoman for DeSantis, said Saturday other companies would likely follow Disney’s lead in changing their vaccination policies in accordance with the legislation.
“Disney is a major employer in Florida, and we are proud that the ‘happiest place on Earth’ is here in our state,” she said in a statement. “Governor DeSantis’ leadership is saving countless jobs and livelihoods before this holiday season.”
Pushaw said DeSantis hopes Disney and other companies would consider rehiring workers who were suspended or fired from their jobs because they would not comply with the required vaccination.
Nick Caturano, a longtime Disney employee who has vocally opposed Disney’s vaccine mandate, said employees received the memo around 2 p.m. Friday.
“It feels really good, like a victory and more than that, it’s just that we’re preserving our jobs,” he said.
He said Disney told workers it would require unvaccinated cast members to wear protective gear, including N-95 masks and face shields, while on shift as part of the updated safety protocol for these workers, a change he was “disappointed” with.
Finger said not every unvaccinated employee would be required to wear N-95 masks or face shields as that would depend upon a worker’s specific duties.
Eric Clinton, president of the union that represents Disney workers in roles like attractions, custodial and vacation planning, reiterated the union’s positive stance toward required vaccination.
“Vaccines, regardless if they’re mandated or not, are the best way for workers to protect themselves against this virus,” he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends vaccination against COVID-19 for everyone ages 5 and up, and on Friday endorsed booster shots for everyone age 18 and older.
The coronavirus pandemic has killed about 769,000 Americans so far, including about 61,000 in Florida. About 47.6 million U.S. cases have been reported since the crisis began early last year.
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