FirstEnergy Corp. in Akron is among the larger employers in Northeast Ohio saying it will abide by the federal government’s upcoming employee COVID-19 vaccination and testing mandates.
“We have a team that is reviewing the guidelines. We intend to fully comply if and when it goes into effect,” spokeswoman Jennifer Young said. FirstEnergy’s priority is to protect the health of its employees and customers, she said.
There’s a good reason for saying “if and when” — legal efforts are underway to prevent the mandates from taking effect.
Other large Northeast Ohio employers on Friday said they also intend to follow the measures after President Joe Biden on Thursday said his administration will enforce the recently drafted vaccination and testing mandates.
As for FirstEnergy, its office workers are still working remotely for the most part, Young said. The utility had hoped office workers could return in the early fall, but the spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus has pushed those plans back to at least early 2022.
Vaccination mandate rules just released
The new vaccination rules, announced in September, were officially issued Thursday by the federal Department of Labor. Private sector companies with at least 100 employees will need to have those employees vaccinated against COVID-19 by Jan. 4 or the employees must be tested weekly. Companies that do not comply can be fined.
Companies will not be required to pay for weekly testing of unvaccinated workers unless the requirement is otherwise required by state or local laws or labor contracts.
Companies can be fined from $13,653 per employee for not meeting the Jan. 4 deadline, and as much as $136,532 for willful noncompliance, according to the guidelines.
Diebold Nixdorf evaluating
ATM maker and financial services technology company Diebold Nixdorf is reviewing the mandate, a spokesman said.
“Protecting the health and safety of our employees remains our top priority as we navigate the changing COVID-19 landscape,” spokesman Mike Jacobsen said in a statement. “Diebold Nixdorf continues to evaluate COVID-19 health and safety measures based on current local conditions and guidance from relevant authorities where we operate around the world. To that end, we are reviewing and evaluating the federal vaccine mandate in the U.S., and the 490+ pages of the Emergency Temporary Standard from OSHA, in order to understand what is required to be compliant.”
The company will inform its employees and others and make appropriate decisions as it moves forward through its review, he said.
Diebold Nixdorf currently is not mandating that its employees be vaccinated but is encouraging that they get vaccinated, Jacobsen said. The company offers paid time off for employees to get vaccinations and the new booster shots.
“In addition we require all employees to follow stringent health and safety protocols to help safeguard the health and well-being of our employees, customers and communities,” he said.
TimkenSteel declined to comment.
Lawsuits filed to overturn mandate
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost and six other attorneys general — from Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Tennessee and West Virginia — on Friday filed suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit to challenge the vaccine mandate.
The Columbus-based Buckeye Institute on Friday also said it filed a motion for an emergency stay on the federal vaccine mandate, also in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit. The institute called the mandate “one of the most far-reaching and invasive rules ever promulgated by the federal government.” It said the mandate is an attempt by the Biden administration to work around statutory and constitutional limitations.
Ohio Chamber President and CEO Steve Stivers on Thursday criticized the mandate.
“Today’s announcement from the Biden Administration is a significant infringement on the ability of Ohio employers to set their own workplace policies,” Stivers said in a statement. “Ohio businesses know best how to protect the health and safety of their employees, customers and patients and should not be subject to the heavy hand of government dictating a one-size-fits-all approach to COVID-19 vaccines and testing.”
Unlike the rules for other large employers, the mandates for health care businesses that accept money from Medicare or Medicaid do not allow a testing option in lieu of vaccination.
Summa Health in August became the only Akron-area health system to put in place a COVID-19 vaccine mandate as a condition of employment.
So far, 91% of Summa employees are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to a health system spokesman. Another 7% have been granted religious or medical exemptions, and the remaining 2% face disciplinary actions, up to termination.
On Monday, Akron Children’s Hospital began requiring employees to show proof of vaccination or undergo weekly testing.
About 80% of Children’s employees are fully vaccinated, according to the hospital. A hospital official said this week Children’s is reviewing the new federal vaccination rules and will comply.
Cleveland Clinic and Western Reserve Hospitals in Cuyahoga Falls are not yet mandating employees receive the vaccine.
A Cleveland Clinic Akron General spokeswoman said this week that the Cleveland-based health system is reviewing the federal rules and will comply. Along with Akron General, the Cleveland Clinic owns Mercy Hospital in Canton and Medina Hospital.
“We are currently reviewing the rule, and we will comply with federal requirements that apply to our health system. We will have more to share in the coming weeks,” Cleveland Clinic Mercy Hospital spokeswoman Cindy Hickey. “System-wide, about 80% of our staff is currently vaccinated.”
Aultman Hospital in Canton said it will work to meet the federal mandates.
“Of our 7,200 colleagues, 67% are fully vaccinated and many others have received the first of two doses,” said Jason Clevenger, spokesman for Aultman Hospital in Canton, in a statement. “We will continue to work with our colleagues to meet the CMS requirements released on Nov. 4, 2021.”