Disney suspended a coronavirus vaccine mandate for employees at its Florida theme park after state lawmakers and the governor made it illegal for employers to require all workers to be vaccinated, a company spokesman confirmed Saturday.
Walt Disney World should have faced fines under the policy now suspended, showing how even one of the state’s best-known tourism brands is dealing with the headwinds of political debate over responding to the pandemic.
The Republican-controlled Florida legislature tabled the law on Wednesday blocking Covid-19 mandates, and Governor Ron DeSantis signed it on Thursday to put in place the measures to protect workers who could lose their jobs due to non-compliance .
Governor DeSantis, also a Republican, has been at the forefront of the political battle to restrict mask and vaccine mandates, saying that pushing those restrictions counteracts federal government handovers. “Nobody should lose their job due to stubborn COVID mandates, and we had a responsibility to protect the livelihoods of the people of Florida,” the governor said in a statement.
The Biden government has mandated vaccinations for workers in large corporations and federal workers, but the efforts are met with opposition across the country. Florida is among the states that have challenged federal mandates in court.
The new Florida law prohibits employers from enforcing strict vaccination regulations and allows employees to choose exemptions that include health or religious concerns, pregnancy or expected pregnancy who have had and recovered from the virus. Unvaccinated workers could instead undergo regular tests or wear protective equipment at the employer’s expense. Violation fines can cost organizations with fewer than 99 employees $ 10,000 per day per violation, and larger organizations can cost up to $ 50,000 per violation.
Government agencies and school districts are also restricted by the ban on the Covid mandate.
Disney World had reached an agreement with employees that theme park employees must be fully vaccinated against Covid in order to keep their jobs, and the company defended that rule in a statement on Saturday. “We believe our approach to mandatory vaccines was right as we continue to focus on the safety and well-being of our performers and guests,” the statement said in part.
More than 90 percent of active performers in Florida had confirmed they were vaccinated, the company said before sending a memo to employees canceling the mandate.
The Walt Disney website advises visitors that it has been “very deliberate and gradual” in security and recommends that guests exercise caution: wear face-covering, check for symptoms, and get the injections. “We encourage people to get vaccinated,” it says.
Todd Gregory contributed to this report.