Disney has put on pause a coronavirus vaccine mandate for employees of its Florida theme park after the State Legislature and the governor made it illegal for employers to require all workers get the shots, a company spokesperson confirmed Saturday.
Walt Disney World could have been facing fines under the policy now on hold, illustrating how even one of the most iconic tourism brands in the state has to deal with the headwinds of political debate over the pandemic response.
The Republican-controlled Florida Legislature delivered the bill blocking Covid-19 mandates on Wednesday and Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into law on Thursday, casting the measures as an effort to protect workers who could lose their jobs for lack of compliance.
Governor DeSantis, also a Republican, has been at the forefront of the political fight to curtail mask and vaccine mandates, saying the push against those restrictions counters overreach from the federal government. “Nobody should lose their job due to heavy-handed COVID mandates and we had a responsibility to protect the livelihoods of the people of Florida,” the governor said in a statement.
The Biden administration has ordered vaccinations for workers in large companies and members of the federal work force, but the effort has met resistance across the country. Florida is among states that have challenged federal mandates in court.
The new Florida law prohibits employers from enforcing strict vaccine mandates, allowing employees to choose exemptions that include health or religious concerns, pregnancy or anticipated pregnancy, and having had the virus and recovered from it. Unvaccinated workers could instead undergo periodic testing or wear protective equipment, at the employers’ cost. Fines for violation could cost $10,000 a day per employee violation for businesses with fewer than 99 employees or up to $50,000 per employee violation for larger businesses.
Government entities and school districts are also restricted by the Covid mandate ban.
Disney World had struck a deal with employees to require theme park workers be fully vaccinated against Covid to keep their jobs, and the company defended that rule in a statement Saturday. “We believe that our approach to mandatory vaccines has been the right one as we’ve continued to focus on the safety and well-being of our Cast Members and Guests,” the statement said in part.
Walt Disney’s website tells visitors it has been “very intentional and gradual” in operating safely, recommending guests exercise caution: wearing face coverings, checking for symptoms and getting the shots. “We encourage people to get vaccinated,” it says.
Todd Gregory contributed to this report.