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Employees at Orange County Tax Collector’s Office vaccinating after mandate

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – On Monday, Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph warned all 316 employees they must vaccinate or resign. The morning after the announcement Communications Director Eddie Ayala said several employees decided to pre-empt the Aug. 31 deadline and get vaccinated.

“We have 45% of employees are currently vaccinated, so we’re a bit behind Orange County,” Ayala said. “Orange County as a whole, the general public, is about 61, 62%, so we’ve got some catching up to do. We’ve heard from several employees who are already getting vaccinated today.”

The Tax Collector’s Office is a public entity, not private, but Ayala said the Office still has the authority to require vaccination.

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“We have talked to a number of attorneys, we feel that we are within the law, we wouldn’t have taken this action if we didn’t think we had the authority to do it,” Ayala said. “We are a governmental agency, we serve the public, and that’s one of the reasons that’s why we decided to take this move.”

Ayala said the No. 1 priority is protecting employees and their families and No. 2 is protecting members of the public.

“You come into our office to get your driver’s license, pay your taxes, the last thing that you expect is the person across the counter from you infects you with COVID,” Ayala said. “Also we need to stay open to the public, we are an essential public operation, we can’t afford to be closed, like during the original stay-at-home order.”

What if an employee refuses to get vaccinated?

“It is a condition of employment, much like a background check for a drug test,” Ayala said. “The employee can choose to either do those things or choose to resign their position from the Tax Collector’s Office.”

Some private companies are already requiring vaccines and some colleges are starting to. On Monday, the Department of Veterans Affairs became the first major federal agency to require health care workers to get COVID-19 vaccines.

News 6 legal analyst Steve Kramer said requiring employees to get vaccinated is legal, as long as the employer allows medical and religious exemptions.

The Orange County Tax Collector’s office is making those exceptions. If allowed, those exempted will be required to wear masks and submit a negative COVID test at the beginning of each workweek.

“The public pays our salaries, they pay our health care as well, and we know that severe illness or hospitalization can potentially lead to hundreds of thousands of dollars in health care costs,” Ayala said. “If that were, unfortunately, to happen to a number of employees that could be millions of dollars in health care costs and ultimately that will follow the taxpayer to pay those bills.”

The health care system is bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 case spike.

Two Brevard County hospitals have set up overflow tents outside their Emergency Rooms and AdventhHealth elevated its status to level red Monday after reporting more than 900 patients hospitalized with COVID-19.

Emergency managers say 94% of all of those hospitalized for COVID-19-related illnesses are unvaccinated.

About the Author:

Erik von Ancken anchors and reports for WKMG-TV News 6 (CBS) in Orlando and is a two-time Emmy award-winning journalist in the prestigious and coveted "On-Camera Talent" categories for both anchoring and reporting. Erik joined the News 6 News Team in 2003 days after the tragic loss of space shuttle Columbia.