TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — Leon County is being fined over $3.5 million for terminating county employees that did not provide proof of having received a COVID-19 vaccine.
The Florida Department of Health announced$3,570,000 in fines for 714 counts of violating section 381.00316, Florida Statutes, and ultimately firing 14 employees.
"By way of media reports, Leon County was made aware of a notice from the Florida Department of Health regarding the County’s vaccination requirement," said Vincent S. Long, Leon County Administrator. "There is a genuine disagreement about the applicability of the statute and rule, and the County will enforce its rights using any remedies available at law, if necessary."
Statement from the County Administrator: County Responds to Media Reports About FDOH Fines
Leon County was made aware of a notice from the Florida Department of Health regarding the County’s vaccination requirement. The County strongly contends that our employee vaccination requirement was not only completely legally justifiable, but it was a necessary and responsible action to take to keep our employees safe, protect the public, and ensure our readiness as a frontline response organization.
Every single day over the last 20 months of combating the pandemic, Leon County’s emergency response and mitigation efforts have been informed by expert public health guidance and in alignment with a plain reading of the law to ensure the safety of our community. The Governor’s position in this instance unfortunately appears to be less of a public health strategy and more about political strategy. Leon County fully intends to enforce its rights using any remedies available to settle all arguments about the applicability of the statute at issue so that we can continue to direct our full and undivided attention on combating the virus, protecting our employees and citizens, and fulfilling our obligations to our community.
On September 13, 2021, Governor Ron DeSantis said it is unacceptable that Leon County violated Florida law, infringed on current and former employees’ medical privacy, and fired loyal public servants because of their personal health decisions.
“We are going to protect Florida jobs. We are not going to let people be fired because of a vaccine mandate. …And so you don't just cast aside people who've been serving faithfully over this issue over, what's basically a personal choice on their individual health. We cannot let these folks be cast aside. We cannot allow their jobs to be destroyed and their families and livelihoods, potentially, to be destroyed as well. And we've seen places like city of Gainesville, some other places around the state that have basically said, we are going to fire you unless you take a vaccine. Fortunately the state of Florida passed a law, this most recent legislative session, SB 2006, that did a lot of different things. It prevented private businesses from requiring proof of vaccination to just do normal things like go to a movie or go to a restaurant, but that also applied to government agencies. And so if a government agency in the state of Florida forces a vaccine as a condition to employment, that violates Florida law and you will face a $5,000 fine for every single violation. You look at places here in Alachua County, like the city of Gainesville, I mean, that's millions and millions of dollars, and potentially in fines, Orange County, many more than that. … We'd make [vaccines] available for all, but mandatory for none. And that's been the policy that we've had from the beginning.”
Since then, following leadership from Governor DeSantis, both the City of Gainesville and Orange County have walked back their threats to fire workers who do not show their vaccine passports. After the Florida Department of Health alerted the City of Gainesville of their possible violation of the vaccination passport ban in Florida, the City of Gainesville rescinded its employee vaccine mandate.