TAMPA, Fla. — At least one local business is now requiring all of their employees to get vaccinated as COVID-19 cases climb: the Straz Center for the Performing Arts.
When Straz CEO Judy Lisi saw cases spiking yet again, she acted by establishing a new policy that all employees must get the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of employment.
“This is not political. This really is about keeping our community as safe as possible,” she explained. “I know it’s a hard decision for all businesses because you want to respect your employees and where they are coming from but on the other hand, now that we’ve seen that this Delta virus is so contagious, if we don’t pull together, we will wind up in a similar place and none of us want to get there.”
Lisi says 85% of her staff are currently vaccinated and less than 3% have decided, because of the policy, to find jobs elsewhere.
“Sometimes people are just on the line. They’re so close and that little extra bit like we love you working here, and we want you to stay working here makes a big difference,” she elaborated.
A few months ago, Governor Ron DeSantis signed a law banning vaccine passports. That means you don’t have to show proof of vaccination to get into a ball game, concert venue or a movie theater, but legal experts say employers have more wiggle room.
“In Florida, what a business cannot do is they cannot ask a patron for proof of vaccination, but a business could theoretically say to their employees we want you to be vaccinated and we want evidence of your vaccination status,” explained Attorney Robert Shimberg of Hill Ward Henderson Law Firm.
Shimberg specializes in corporate compliance and for the past year and 8 months, he has been the chairman of a legal COVID response team. Shimberg says this is a conversation that business owners across Tampa Bay are having as they navigate the best ways to keep employees safe.
“3 or 4 weeks ago the prevailing view was if you were vaccinated you were pretty well protected, but the more we are heading about the Delta Variant the more we understand things are different now than they were,” he added.
At the Straz, Lisi plans to bring back full capacity shows starting in September. With a fully vaccinated staff and required masks, she feels more comfortable welcoming patrons back.
“I just thought we need to do this to keep our staff and students and artists and guests safe and when we do reopen we want to do it successfully for everyone,” she added.