State workers get final chance to comply with vaccine mandate

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By Paul Hughes, Republican-American

SOUTHINGTON — State employees got one final chance Tuesday to comply with Gov. Ned Lamont’s vaccine-or-testing mandate before state agencies start handing down 45-day unpaid suspensions.

Lamont told reporters Tuesday morning at a Southington firehouse that 28 employees who were still in their six-month probationary period have been terminated — 16 more than the dozen probationers that initially were reported Friday.

He said the next round of suspensions will include veteran employees who have job protections. Meanwhile, state agencies were making a final effort to get these workers to comply, Lamont noted.

“We’re giving them one more chance,” he said.

The unpaid leaves of absence could lead to permanent job losses after 45 days if suspended employees continue to decline to get vaccinated or submit to weekly testing under an agreement the Lamont administration and State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition executed Friday.

The agreement with SEBAC assures that unionized employees are not deemed out of compliance because of computer error or related reporting problem, provides for free testing, and gives employees who do not comply with the governor’s executive order the ability to resign in good standing with the option to rescind such resignation for one year.

Lamont said he expects some unionized employees will file grievances contesting their suspensions, but none will be allowed to remain on the job while they pursue any grievance rights they may have under their collective bargaining agreements.

“I think some will. We’ve got an agreement with labor. Everybody knows what the rules are. We’ve got that signed,” he said.

Under Lamont’s order, executive branch employees have to provide proof they are fully vaccinated or they are in the process of completing their vaccination series after having received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Alternatively, covered employees can opt to submit to weekly testing, but testing is only available to workers at state hospitals and long-term care facilities who receive a medical or religious exemption.

DURING THE FIRST 30 DAYS of the 45-day unpaid leave, an employee may voluntarily resign in good standing, a move that permits a worker to retain the right to rescind the resignation and fill any vacancy in their former position, or any position in which they previously held permanent status.

“I’d like to think a lot of those folks during that 30 days would reconsider and come back to work,” Lamont said. “We want you to come back to work.”

Otherwise, an employee will be permanently discharged from state service following the 45th day of unpaid leave. Nothing in the new SEBAC agreement waives any grievance rights an employee may have under their union contracts.

Lamont said health care workers who refuse vaccinations face suspension despite staffing shortages that predated the pandemic. These workplaces include Connecticut Valley Hospital, Whiting Forensic Hospital, John Dempsey Hospital and Albert J. Solnit Center South.

“I can tell you we’re looking very carefully at getting some additional support in there very quickly,” Lamont said. “But it’s really important if you’re working there with those folks, you’ve got to be vaccinated.”

WEEKLY TESTING PROTOCOLS will apply to health care workers requesting medical or religious exemptions until the state makes a determination on their application.

Employees may receive tests at no cost from a state-licensed clinical laboratory, pharmacy or health care provider that offers free COVID-19 testing to the public. Alternatively, the state will pay for weekly tests for workers unable to avail themselves of free testing for the duration of the governor’s mandate. Home-based testing and results from unapproved testing providers will not be accepted.

Employees may use vacation, sick leave, compensatory time and personal leave to get tested. Work time lost due to any side effects from the vaccine may be charged against an employee’s sick time or other accrued leave time if the employee is unable to work.

STATE OFFICIALS REPORTED Tuesday there were 1,473 new cases of COVID-19 out of 74,213 test results received since last Friday for a 1.98% positive test rate.

There have been 395,481 cases reported since March 2020, and nearly 11.4 million molecular and antigen tests have been performed.

There were 234 patients hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 statewide, which was unchanged since last Friday.

There have been 8,667 coronavirus-associated deaths, according to the most recent reported totals.

There have been 4,056 cases in Naugatuck, 1,091 in Prospect and 665 in Beacon Falls since last March, according to officials.

There have been 101 coronavirus-associated deaths in Naugatuck, six in Beacon Falls and five in Prospect, according to the most recent reported totals.

Elio Gugliotti contributed to this article.