January 30, 2023

Volume XIII, Number 30


January 27, 2023

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Florida Passes Legislation in Response to Federal Vaccine Mandates - Is Your Business in Compliance?

On Thursday, November 18, 2021, Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law, effective immediately, legislation targeted at the recent COVID “vaccine mandates” implemented by the Biden administration. Specifically, the Florida legislature approved the following four bills:

  • S.B. 2B/H.B. 1B – requires employers to add more “opt-out” options for employees subject to employer vaccine mandates, subject to significant fines for non-compliance. This new law also prohibits COVID-19 vaccination mandates for students and public employees, and provides students or their parents to sue a school district for violating the law.

  • S.B. 4B/H.B. 3B – makes all employee complaints alleging a violation of the above law confidential and exempt from public view while an investigation is ongoing.

  • S.B. 6B/H.B. 5B – establishes the intent of the legislature to establish a state-level version of OSHA and asks the Governor's Office to create a plan for doing so.

  • S.B. 8B/H.B. 7B – removes the State Health Officer's ability to order the vaccination of individuals upon declaration of a public health emergency.

Most importantly for Florida employers, S.B. 2B/H.B. 1B prohibits employers from imposing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate without providing employees certain “exemptions” that allow employees to “opt out” of the vaccine requirement. Notably, these exemptions are broader than the limited exemptions under federal vaccine mandates as they include:

  • “Medical reasons”;

  • “Religious reasons”;

  • Pregnancy or anticipated pregnancy;

  • COVID-19 immunity;

  • Periodic testing (paid for by employers); and

  • Use of employer-provided personal protective equipment (also paid for by employers).

Businesses with vaccine mandates that are found to have terminated an employee without providing one of the above exceptions will be subject to hefty fines – $10,000 per violation for businesses with fewer than 100 employees, and $50,000 per violation for those with 100 or more.

Notably, the Florida law is in conflict with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), the federal contractor vaccine mandate, and the CMS vaccine mandate for certain healthcare workers. Each federal mandate provides fewer “exemptions” / “opt-outs” from the federal vaccination requirements – generally, only for medical/disability reasons and for sincerely-held religious beliefs. It remains to be seen how this new Florida law will interact with these federal mandates.

However, as detailed in our previous alert, the OSHA ETS, which established COVID vaccination and testing requirements for private employers with 100 or more employees, has been stayed by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and it is now assigned to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals for further judicial review. To date, the federal contractor vaccine mandate and the CMS vaccine mandate for certain healthcare workers remain in place with vaccination deadlines looming

© 2007-2023 Hill Ward Henderson, All Rights ReservedNational Law Review, Volume XI, Number 327

About this Author

Gordan Hill Employment Litigator Hill Ward Henderson

Gordon is a Shareholder in the firm’s Litigation and Employment Law Groups, and is the firm's Assistant General Counsel for Labor and Employment matters. His practice primarily involves employment litigation and counseling, as well as noncompete litigation and general commercial litigation.

In his employment practice, Gordon advises, represents and defends corporate clients in a broad spectrum of employment-related issues. Gordon has successfully defended clients in a wide variety of employment-related litigation, but...

Robert A. Shimberg Commercial Litigation Attorney Hill Ward Henderson

Robert is a Shareholder in the firm's Litigation Group. His primary practice areas include commercial litigation, corporate compliance, cybersecurity, governmental relations and corporate investigations. He was formerly a prosecutor with the Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office.

Robert has provided compliance-related services and training to over 300 businesses around the country. He has defended businesses against consumer claims, class action lawsuits, and provided representation in connection with government agency inquiries and investigations and...

Kirsten Vignec Employee Benefits Attorney HIll Ward Henderson

Kirsten is a Shareholder in the firm's Corporate & Tax Group and practice co-chair of the Executive Compensation & Employee Benefits Group. Kirsten’s practice involves employee benefit matters associated with the design and ongoing administration of executive deferred compensation plans, welfare benefit plans, Section 401(k) plans, profit sharing plans, and pension plans. Kirsten represents tax-exempt entities, for-profit, private, and publicly-traded companies.

Kirsten represents clients before the IRS, DOL, and the PBGC with respect to employee benefits matters.


Jeff Wilcox Litigation Attorney Hill Ward Henderson Law Firm

Jeff is a Shareholder in the firm’s Litigation Group. His practice primarily focuses on employment law, including wage-hour compliance, FMLA and ADA compliance, allegations of discrimination and harassment, non-compete litigation, and handbook and policy drafting. 

Jeff is active in both professional and Bar-related activities.  He currently serves as a Director on the Hillsborough County Bar Association, Young Lawyers Division Board, and is a member of the Employment and Labor Law Committee in the Defense Research Institute.  In 2014, Jeff received the Hillsborough County Bar...

Ryan M. Guerin - Associate HWH Law complex commercial litigation labor and employment

Ryan is an associate in the firm’s Litigation group. His practice primarily focuses in the area of labor and employment. Ryan also covers an array of general and complex commercial litigation matters.

Ryan represents employers in litigation involving claims of employment harassment, discrimination, retaliation, leave laws, wage and hour laws, whistleblower laws, enforcement of and defense against non-solicitation and non-competition agreements, background check laws, and other employment-related claims. Ryan represents numerous industries, including clients...