Vaccine Mandate Frequently Asked Questions

The following is a FAQ related to Proclamation 21-14.5: COVID-19 Vaccination Requirements.

Who does the Proclamation apply to?

  • All Cabinet Agency worksites and employees
  • Health care employees in private sector health care and in long term care settings including but not limited to nursing homes, adult family homes, assisted living, enhanced services facilities, residential treatment facilities, and other treatment facilities.  
  • Most contractors, volunteers and other positions that have any onsite presence in a workplace setting. (The proclamation does not apply to contractors and volunteers who meet both criteria of working in outdoor settings and do not provide medical services.)
  • K-12 and higher education institutions
  • Childcare providers
  • At the request of the relevant separately elected official, this proclamation also covers contractors of the Office of the Attorney General, the Office of the Insurance Commissioner, the Office of the Lieutenant governor, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, and the Office of the Secretary of State; and it covers the employees and contractors of the Office of the Commissioner of Public Lands and the Department of Natural Resources.
  • The proclamation does not cover most boards and commissions, but those governmental bodies are encouraged to adopt a similar approach if they have not done so already.

What does the Proclamation do?

The proclamation requires all state employees, higher education, childcare, and K-12 education employees, and most health and long-term care providers to be fully vaccinated with a recommended COVID-19 vaccine by October 18, 2021, or by a different specified date, or when they begin employment, as a condition of employment. Employers will need to verify vaccination status of all employees.

When will this be in effect?

The original order was effective immediately, and the deadline to become fully vaccinated was October 18, 2021, or as otherwise specified or when new employees begin employment. 

The amendments in Proclamation 21-14.5, issued on May 20, 2022, and which exempt some outdoor volunteers and contractors, are effective immediately. 

On what legal grounds can this be imposed?

In response to the emerging COVID-19 threat, the Governor declared a state of emergency on February 29, 2020, using his broad emergency authority under RCW 43.06. More specifically, under RCW 43.06.220, after a state of emergency has been declared, the Governor may suspend statutes and prohibit any activity that he believes should be prohibited to help preserve and maintain life, health, property or the public peace. Under an emergency such as this, the Governor’s paramount duty is to focus on the health and safety of our communities. In addition, the Governor is also a large employer and needs to meet the obligation to provide a safe workplace for government employees. This Proclamation answers both of those obligations.

Staff have been successful keeping infection rates low with safety precautions such as social distancing, hand washing, and mask wearing, why is this needed?

COVID-19 is a designated workplace hazard. Even with other safety efforts in place, outbreaks that cause hospitalization or death are still a risk. The threat of COVID-19 is evolving as new, more easily transmitted variants become prevalent in our state. COVID-19 vaccination is the single most effective resource to prevent serious illness and death. The state of Washington has a duty to our employees to provide a safe work environment and to reduce risk to the public we serve. This safety measure is equally important to reduce hospitalizations related to COVID and help to protect the communities in which we live and interact.

What is the mechanism for proving vaccination?

The Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) and the Department of Health (DOH) have published requirements and guidance that all employers must adhere to. State agencies already have protocols in place per the Healthy WA – Roadmap to Recovery Guide v11 to develop vaccination verification. No employer may accept self-attestation to verify vaccination but have a range of options to address different business needs. Employers must be able to show the process used to verify employee vaccination status. They are not required to keep an actual copy of the employee’s vaccination records. Detailed information about acceptable documentation is available here.

What if my employee works remotely, in another country, and does not have easy access to the vaccine?

The latest version of the proclamation clarifies that, in those limited circumstances, the vaccine mandate will not apply.

What if my employee is close to finishing their vaccine regimen but might miss the deadline?

Although the employee is unable to work after October 18, 2021, the proclamation authorizes you to place them on leave while they become compliant.

For state employees:

With so many state employees working remotely, does the requirement only apply if/when they return to the office?

No.  COVID-19 vaccination is a condition of employment. The requirement applies to all state workers regardless of their work setting. All workers need to be prepared to come to a worksite at any time necessary to meet business needs.

Is there any avenue to opt out of vaccination?

Under the proclamation, employees must show proof of vaccination by October 18, 2021 or later specified date (or, for employees who begin state employment after that date, vaccination before their official start date). State employees may work with their agency’s human resources office if they need a reasonable accommodation for medical or religious reasons. Private sector employers may choose a different process.

How will agencies safeguard my vaccination information?

State agencies have protocol in place for safeguarding confidential information. Vaccination information will meet these requirements.

What if someone refuses to get vaccinated?

All employees must be fully vaccinated by October 18, 2021 or the later specified date, or when they begin employment, as a qualification of fitness for employment. Employees who refuse will be subject to non-disciplinary dismissal from employment for failing to meet the qualifications of the job. Those employees granted a reasonable accommodation for medical or religious reasons may not be subject to non-disciplinary dismissal. There may be continued or additional safety requirements for employees who are granted accommodations.

What if an employee is vaccinated but refuses to provide verification?

State employees must provide proof of vaccination. Employees who refuse will be subject to non-disciplinary dismissal from employment for failing to meet the qualifications of the job.

Will employees have any recourse to losing employment?

Any post dismissal dispute over a dismissal action would follow any applicable collective bargaining agreement, civil service rules, and/or agency policy and procedure.

How will the state be engaging with labor on this issue?

We understand that there will be many questions about the processes that agencies, and other employers, will use to implement this direction. Employers value their relationships with labor organizations and will discuss the impacts of this directive as requested.

What stakeholders were consulted in arriving at this decision?

The state engaged with labor organizations, local governments, and private healthcare, and received communications from various associations representing segments of private healthcare settings. These engagements revealed differing viewpoints and perspectives. Many organizations expressed an interest in implementation of a “vaccination or test” approach. Many other settings have taken this approach. We considered this feedback in great depth and deemed that approach infeasible in state government and across our health systems. The state and some private entities have used a “vaccination or test” system in various congregate care settings and many recognized it to have not stopped the threat to our communities and places of work, as outbreaks have persisted. The cost and administrative process to sustain, or expand, this model long-term is significant. Ultimately, the state made the tough decision to proceed with a mandate for the healthcare workforce and the state employee workforce.

Given the spread of the Delta variant, what other steps is the state taking to protect the workforce and the community?

The state continues to assess what measures need to be in place in state agencies and community settings. L&I and DOH are engaged daily on disease data analytics, health requirements, and workplace safety requirements to determine what is working well and what is not. Variants are rapidly spreading and continuing to put unvaccinated populations  at greater risk.

Grounded in the Healthy WA – Roadmap to Recovery Guide for state agencies, periodic updates are provided to state Cabinet agencies to meet CDC, DOH, and L&I requirements and to determine agency implementation directions. We take into consideration business, customer, and employee impacts as we develop strategies to keep people healthy and safe in our worksites. This includes planning for return to work that emphasizes a hybrid model of service delivery.

We continue to update masking and physical distancing requirements in a way that best protects our employees and the people we serve. We have increased options for customers to get services online or remotely to decrease the need for in person contact and travel. We have also prioritized closing business gaps where in person services are needed as we pay attention to equity in our approach to customer access.

Will the state provide additional guidance regarding this directive?

The state will establish additional resources.

Contractors 

Which contractors of covered entities are included in the vaccination requirement for employees?

The requirement applies to contractors of covered entities who primarily perform their work indoors or who otherwise provide healthcare services as a function of their position.  

Included:

  • State agencies: Contractors working indoors and onsite at state agencies regardless of frequency, whether other workers are present, or any contingent nature of that requirement. 
  • Medical facilities: Contractors who hold health care licenses or are authorized to practice professionally without a license are included, regardless of where they work. Contractors who work indoors in a “health care setting” are also included, even if they do not have a license or provide health care to patients themselves and even if patients are not nearby. “Health care setting” is defined as any public or private setting that is primarily used for the delivery of in-person health care services to people. “Health care setting” includes portions of a multi-use facility, but only the areas that are primarily used for the delivery of health care, such as a pharmacy within a grocery store. But if a health care setting is in a facility that is primarily used for the delivery of health care services, the entire facility is a health care setting. For example, an entire hospital is a healthcare setting, including its administrative areas.
  • Educational setting: Contractors who work in places where students or people receiving services are present. More specifically, a contractor will only be exempt from the mandate if the work is being performed outside and does not involve providing health care services, or if the work is being performed in an area where separation from students and people receiving services can be controlled and maintained by the contractor. Separation cannot simply be distance or a small plexiglass barrier; rather, the separation must be achieved only when the contractor is removed from the same air space as students, etc.

Not included:

  • Workers who are present at a site for only a short period of time and have a fleeting physical presence with others. Examples include contractors delivering supplies by truck to a construction site where they remain physically distanced from others on the site, refuse pickup or a driver for a contracted shipping and delivery service briefly entering a site to pick up parcels for shipping.
  • Organizations that are recipients or subrecipients of state funding and who work in their own independent workspace.
  • Work performed outside and does not involve delivery of health care services. Examples include exterior maintenance, landscape contractors, outdoor construction sites, and contractors who fight wildfires or provide support to wildfire incidents.
  • Work performed outdoors constructing a new healthcare setting not yet put into active use, provided it is cordoned off from the other areas of the health care setting that are in active use.
  • Work performed outside and on-site at a state agency, institution of higher education or healthcare setting, provided that the work does not include providing health care services and the worker is engaged primarily to perform work outside.  Examples include landscape contractors; outdoor construction site contractors; and contractors who fight wildfires or provide support to wildfire incidents. 
  • Work performed at a school or institution of higher education in a location removed from student instruction or services.

Volunteers

Which volunteers of covered entities are included in the vaccination requirement for employees?

All on-site volunteers who primarily or routinely perform their duties or tasks indoors, or whose duties or tasks include providing health care services in any on-site location, are included in the requirement to be fully vaccinated.

Requirements do not apply to on-site volunteers who primarily perform their duties or tasks outside, and whose duties or tasks do not include providing health care services.   Examples include volunteers with the state Department of Transportation’s Adopt-A-Highway Program and K-12 volunteers who perform their duties or tasks in outdoor settings. 

Where can I find sample forms and additional guidance for implementing vaccine requirements for my workforce?

A variety of templates and guidance documents are made available for private employers here.

Higher Education

Are student workers covered?

Students are exempt from the vaccination requirement only when they are acting as students. When engaged in work for their school, they are acting as workers, not as students, and are thus included in the proclamation. As for those that have placements off campus they are also included.

Firefighters, Police Officers, Jail Staff

Are first responders and other law enforcement officers included in the vaccine mandate?

It depends on the position.

  • Firefighters are included whenever licensed by the state as an EMT or paramedic, or whenever performing medical functions in their official course of duty. Administrative staff at fire stations are not covered by the mandate because fire stations are not considered healthcare settings. Volunteer firefighters whose positions are restricted to emergency calls and do not perform medical services as a function of their position description are not covered by the proclamation. Volunteers and contractors who fight wildfires and/or provide wildfire incident support, whose work is primarily performed outside, and who do not provide health care services as a function of their position description, are not covered by the proclamation. 

If any firefighter is credentialed but not practicing as a function of their position or employment contract, they do not meet the definition of healthcare provider and are therefore not covered.

  • Police officers are not included in the definition of “health care provider” in the mandate because their performance of medical functions is merely incidental to their role in law enforcement. They may be otherwise included based on employment with a covered entity such as an institution of higher education or the Washington State Patrol.
  • County and municipal jail staff are included in the mandate if they are a licensed healthcare provider or work in the medical treatment area. Other parts of the jail are not considered healthcare settings, and therefore, any jail staff whose primary duties do not include healthcare are excluded.
    • Note that the proclamation, and this FAQ, relate to healthcare services within the jail facility. Additional vaccine requirements may be adopted in the future that include additional jail personnel beyond health care staff.

Note that Washington State Patrol officers are covered as state employees and that local vaccine mandates may include local law enforcement and jail staff in the future.

Federal Employees

Are federal employees and contractors included in the vaccine mandate?

Yes, federal employees and federal contractors performing health care services are included. The vaccination requirement applies to Washington credentialed health care providers and individuals authorized to perform health care services in a professional capacity. The mandate also applies to federal employees and contractors working on federal property within the state of Washington.

Exemptions and Accommodations

Who is responsible for issuing exemptions and accommodations for non-state employees?

A private employer covered by this requirement must manage the accommodation process with clear and adequate policies that comply with Proclamation 21-14.1, et seq. Employers are prohibited from granting exemptions:

  • That they know are based on false, misleading, or dishonest grounds or information;
  • That they know are based on the personal preference of the individual and not on an inability to get vaccinated because of a disability or a conflict with a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance; or
  • Without conducting an individualized assessment and determination of each individual’s need and justification for an accommodation; i.e., “rubberstamping” accommodation requests.

Anyone who is eligible for a religious or disability-related/medical exemption is entitled to a reasonable accommodation assessment. The reasonable accommodation assessment will take into account the individual’s position, the business needs of the employer, and the business needs of the contract-holder, in the case of covered on-site contractors. To ensure compliance with all COVID-19 requirements and anti-discrimination laws, private employers are advised to seek legal counsel.

For contractors coming onto state property, the state may impose additional health and safety measures should the contractor’s accommodation be insufficient to protect against the COVID-19 hazard.

The state has developed templates for state employees and contractors, which may be used voluntarily. They are located at the bottom of this webpage.

Additional Resources

Industry Specific FAQs

DISCLAIMER. The following templates are meant to be a reference for Washington employers implementing Proclamation 21-14, et seq. The state makes no representation that reliance on these templates will satisfy an employer’s legal obligations or shield any employer from legal challenges. Every employment setting is unique, and you should carefully review your accommodation policies with legal counsel. In providing these materials, the state is not requiring their use by private employers; rather, they are intended for Washington state agencies and are offered for general informational purposes only. 

Exemption and Accommodation Templates

Contract Management Materials