State workers seek exemptions to vaccine mandate

OLYMPIA — Nearly 4,800 state workers are seeking an exemption to Gov. Jay Inslee’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, about 8 percent of the approximately 60,000 employees subject to the requirement.

The Seattle Times reported Tuesday that the requests for a medical or religious opt-out from the vaccine requirement has come from workers at 24 different state agencies.

In August, the governor ordered state workers, school workers and some health-care employees to be vaccinated, without a regular testing alternative as offered by some other states. Workers must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18, or lose their jobs, unless they have either a medical or religious exemption and have been granted a job accommodation.

Not everyone who applies for an exemption will necessarily be granted one.

And even if workers are granted an exemption, they can still be fired if accommodations can’t be found for them in less public-facing positions.

Inslee spokesperson Tara Lee wrote in an email that there is “an individualized accommodation process that each employer must go through with each employee that is seeking an exemption.”

“This process necessarily takes into account the employee’s actual job and the needs of the employer,” she wrote.

Washington is currently in a fifth wave of COVID-19 that has strained the hospital system. Health officials say more than nine out of 10 patients hospitalized with the virus are unvaccinated.

More than 7,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Washington state, the state Department of Health reported on Tuesday.

Resistance to the order has sparked protests in Olympia, and dozens of Washington State Patrol troopers and other state and local government workers have sued Inslee, contending that the mandate violates their constitutional rights and exceeds his legal authority.

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