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Seattle companies weigh vaccine mandates

A Seattle law firm was among the first local companies to require employees to get vaccinated before returning to the office.

A Seattle law firm was among the first companies in western Washington to require employees to get vaccinated before returning to the office and is now helping other businesses navigate the same process.

“Seeing my own employer take a stand and recognize the importance of keeping employees safe was something that was really important to me,” said Kate Tylee Herz, a partner at Davis Wright Tremaine.

Her Bellevue office looks and feels almost like it did pre-pandemic, with many employees now working mostly from their desks.

Tylee Herz and her team are getting questions from other companies trying to figure out if a mandate is right for them.

“I encourage employers to be creative and communicate extremely well with your employees, well in advance, about what the expectations are,” she said.

Employees legally can opt out of a vaccine for religious or medical reasons.

Not every company will need a mandate, Tylee Herz said. Some might make accommodations, such as frequent testing, or a permanent remote work option.

But with the delta variant spreading, and companies eager to get their teams back together, employees should prepare for the possibility of a mandate.

“That it is permissible, that it is completely expected on both a federal and state level, and it can be considered a condition of employment,” Tylee Herz said.

Jason Rittereiser, an attorney with HKM Employment Attorneys, is getting similar questions.

“We're steadfast in our response, which is that private employers can mandate that employees get vaccinations,” he said.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued guidance earlier this year, clearing the way for employers to mandate vaccines in the workplace.

Until this week, hospitals and public universities have been the primary employers mandating vaccines.

There was an important shift Wednesday, when Google and Facebook said they too will require employees to be vaccinated before returning to the office.

“That's giving a lot of cover to smaller private employers to follow suit,” Rittereiser said.