Damakant Jayshi

City employees in Wausau will need to disclose their vaccination status to their supervisors or face potential workplace restrictions if they chose not to do so, according to a revised COVID-19 safety policy for all the staff.

Employees who refuse to disclose their status will be treated as unvaccinated. Those employees will not be allowed stay at the workplace and will have to quarantine at home for eight to 14 days, as per the current policy for unvaccinated employees, a policy that remains in place, in the event of an exposure. The duration of quarantine will be determined by their supervisors in consultation with the Human Resources Department of the city, according to the changed COVID-19 safety policy approved last week by the City Council. The council endorsed the policy first passed by the Human Resources Committee on Oct. 11.

The replaced COVID-19 provision was ambiguous. Wausau Human Resources Director Toni Vanderboom told the HR Committee on Oct. 11 that department heads were unsure how to address employee and workplace safety if there was a confirmed exposure of staff to COVID-19.

Vanderboom said a vaccinated staff member could stay at work if they were asymptomatic but were required to wear masks at work and get a Covid test within three to five days. Unvaccinated employees had to go home and quarantine. But supervisors relied on employees to share their vaccination status to decide what to do if there was an exposure.

The changed policy removes reliance on the honor system. While an employee can still refuse to disclose their vaccination status, that will result in their having to leave the workplace as per the changed policy.

The HR Committee opted for the recommended change after Wausau Deputy Chief of Police Matt Barnes shared a situation which police officers were exposed to the virus after coming into contact with a deceased man and his wife, both of whom had COVID-19. Barnes said he asked the unvaccinated employee to go home, which, he admitted, was not as per the policy.

“This is not to pin anyone down or infringe on anyone’s rights,” Barnes told the HR Committee. “But we have an organization to run. If the staff is vaccinated, they can stay and work and this is beneficial to everyone.”

A latest study shows that first responders – including firefighters, law enforcement, correctional officers and emergency medical service providers – are at increased risk of COVID-19 compared with other essential workers and frontline health care personnel.

There is also evidence that vaccinated people are less likely to spread the virus.

For the HR Committee discussion on Covid policy, click here. The discussion begins at 20:15.

On Tuesday, two weeks after the HR Committee meeting, the City Council endorsed the changes to the employee policy by a vote of 8 to 1. Alderman Michael Martens (Dist. 2) stressed that the council was not imposing a vaccine mandate in any shape or form but was just clarifying the procedure.

Dist. 10 Alder Lou Larson, who had voted against the measure at the HR Committee meeting on Oct. 11, again voted against it.

“It has too much authority over citizens’ private life, and that’s why I will not support this,” Larson said.

Larson’s remarks are part of an ongoing narrative that employers cannot legally ask their employees about their vaccination status. They can, legal experts say, pointing to longtime precedent.

Employers throughout the U.S. have begun asking their employees to either get vaccinated or get a regular COVID-19 test so that workplaces and communities are safe. Though the coronavirus pandemic is on retreat compared to its peak last month, it is still killing 1,400 people daily on average, national figures show. According to the CDC, 737,990 people have died in the U.S. since the pandemic began last year.

Marathon County is now at a high level of COVID-19 community transmission. An overwhelming majority of employees from various sectors have complied with required vaccine mandates in the workplace, officials say.

The City’s current COVID-19 protocol recommends but does not require employees to adhere to the recommendations made by the CDC, Wisconsin DHS and the Marathon County Health Department, “except when recommended to quarantine or self-isolate.”

All three public health agencies have recommended wearing masks or face coverings when indoors. The requirement was removed by the council on Sept. 14 when it ratified and approved a fifth revision to the city’s COVID-19 safety measures. However, the council still recommends following the guidance of public health agencies.

For the revised COVID-19 policy for employees, click here and go to page 75.