Baker backtracks a bit on vaccine mandate

About 50 state employees offered their jobs back

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

THE BAKER ADMINISTRATION has offered jobs back to “a small number” of former state employees who had been among a narrow minority of executive branch workers out of compliance with a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, officials said Tuesday.

A spokesperson for Gov. Charlie Baker confirmed the administration “has recently been able to accommodate a small number of positions who previously were not accommodated under the vaccine requirement.”

“These employees have been offered back their positions, and the administration does not anticipate more letters going out for additional positions,” Baker spokesperson Anisha Chakrabarti said in a statement. “The administration is pleased that the vast majority of employees have complied with the vaccine requirement and has no plans to make updates to the guidance at this time.”

The governor’s office said about 50 employees across several state agencies are affected.

Baker said earlier in the day that his team has been looking to connect with some former state employees who sought medical or religious exemptions to the vaccination requirement he ordered in August 2021.

The vast majority of the more than 41,000 executive branch workers subject to that mandate complied. About 1,000 had left their jobs by the end of the year via resignation or termination, according to data the administration published in December.

“We’ve had a mandatory vaccination requirement in place for a long time. More than 95 percent of the state’s workforce participated in it. And the number of members of our workforce who did participate grew dramatically once we put the requirement in place,” Baker said Tuesday after an event at Hanscom Air Force Base, according to a transcript provided by his office. “But there’s been a process here for dealing with those who sought exemptions. And there are a small number of people who based on continued reviews of those exemption requests we believe we have solutions for. We want to talk to them.”

Asked about law enforcement and State Police officers that have not received any offer to rejoin the force, Baker said the exemption process depends on medical and religious issues as well as “the work you do.”

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“All of those things get baked into this process,” he said. “And there’s a small number of people that we want to talk to because we think we may have an answer for them.”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl, who has made criticism of the state vaccine mandate a centerpiece of his campaign, celebrated the development Tuesday, pledging if elected to rehire every state worker who left the job due to the policy and to “terminate any bureaucrat who thought those vaccine mandates were a good idea.”