The city of Yelm will not enforce a recent resolution approved by council to essentially ignore recent workplace guidance put out by the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I), said Mayor JW Foster.
The guidance requires employers to provide verification of their workers’ COVID-19 vaccination status in order to rescind mask mandates in the workplace.
“That’s not a suggestion,” said L&I spokesperson Tim Church. “It’s a requirement with regards to COVID. If the employer wants workers to stop wearing masks, then they have to provide verification of vaccination status.”
Foster told councilmembers on June 8, after they passed the resolution, that they had turned their backs on the oath they took to uphold the state constitution.
“We will not be enforcing the intent of that resolution,” Foster said in an interview with the Nisqually Valley News on June 16. “The resolution would direct me to disobey legal mandates that are coming down from the Labor and Industries organization.”
According to Foster, Yelm and Bonney Lake are the only two cities out of 281 in Washington that made resolutions to ignore the guidance, but Bonney Lake ultimately decided to not enforce its resolution.
Foster said city staff clarified the requirements of the guidance with L&I. The city consulted its attorney and insurance company to see what the legal ramifications of the resolution could be.
“My job is to take care of the city of Yelm — the fiduciary responsibility to make sure that our finances are safeguarded,” Foster said, referring to the enforcement fines the resolution could incur, as well as the vulnerability to lawsuits.
If a business in the city uses the resolution as fuel to ignore the guidance and L&I fines them, the business could turn around and sue the city to settle the debt, confirmed Foster at the council meeting.
L&I is enforcing the guidance on a complaint-driven basis, Church said, and could show up to a workplace to audit a business’ follow-through with the guidance.
Furthermore, Foster said he has to think of the city’s workforce.
“My responsibility is also to the employees who work in (city hall), to provide them with a safe and comfortable environment,” he said. “And by ‘comfortable,’ I mean most of our employees wanted to take their masks off in the workplace and this is the guidance that L&I gave us to make that possible.”
Church said if employers do not want to follow the guidance, they have to require their employees to wear masks.
Following the guidance is a way to avoid doing just that, Foster said.
“I’m not going to follow the advice that 'make(s) everybody wear a mask,’” Foster said. “That seems (like) a more authoritative and totalitarian-type attitude.”
Dina Lorraine, with L&I public affairs, said acceptable types of verification of vaccination status include:
Proof of vaccination such as a CDC vaccination card or a printed or electronically-stored photo of the card. Employers do not need to keep a copy of the card.
Documentation of vaccination from a health care provider or state immunization information system record.
A hard copy or electronically signed self-attestation from the employee.