Washington Governor Jay Inslee recently issued Proclamation 21-14.1 which requires that every provider, employee, contractor, and volunteer who works in a healthcare setting in the State of Washington must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 18, 2021. More specifically, the vaccine mandate applies to the following healthcare professionals:

  • Individuals holding a license, certification, or registration from the Washington State Department of Health, who are actively practicing or providing services to people;
  • Individuals who are permitted by law to provide health care services in a professional capacity without holding a credential from the Department of Health and are actively providing services to people;
  • Long-term care workers, with limited exceptions described below; and
  • On-site workers in any health care setting, regardless of whether they are licensed or providing health care services, including employees, contractors, and volunteers engaged in work in a health care setting.

As with numerous other proclamations issued during this pandemic, the mandate was issued pursuant to RCW 43.06.220 which grants the governor broad emergency authority to take action to protect the health and safety of Washington.

However, some healthcare professionals have voiced concerns that they are unable to be vaccinated due to their personal religious beliefs. Even with the recent mandate, employers (including healthcare providers) are required to make reasonable accommodations for employees who are unable to get the vaccine due to a deeply held religious belief. To receive a religious exemption, healthcare workers should be prepared to provide the following information to their employers:

  • The length of time the employee has held the particular religious beliefs;
  • Whether their religious beliefs include objections to other vaccines and/or other medicines;
    • If so, the employee should be prepared to explain which other vaccines or medicines their church objects to;
  • Whether the employee has received vaccinations in the past, and under what circumstances; and
  • If the employee’s religious tenets do not include objections to all vaccines, the employee should be prepared to explain why the COVID-19 vaccine in particular is objectionable while others are not.

An employer may ask for more or less information that the above, but this is a good starting point for anyone seeking an exemption from the COVID-19 vaccine mandate on the basis of religion. The Governor’s office has not yet issued specific guidance on whether specific documentation should be submitted to the Department of Health, but their guidance will be forthcoming. This article will be updated with any relevant information.

By Greg Simpson – Associate Attorney

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