A sign that reads “No Jab” is held by a person taking part in a demonstration opposing mask and COVID-19 vaccine mandates outside the Legislative Building on Aug. 18 at the Capitol in Olympia. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, file)

A sign that reads “No Jab” is held by a person taking part in a demonstration opposing mask and COVID-19 vaccine mandates outside the Legislative Building on Aug. 18 at the Capitol in Olympia. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, file)

Thousands of state workers seek exemptions to vaccine mandate

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

Associated Press

OLYMPIA — More than 4,300 state workers are seeking an exemption to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, about 7% 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 at least 21 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. Healthy officials say that more than nine out of 10 patients hospitalized with the virus are unvaccinated.

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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