Washington state agencies sending separation notices to employees over vaccine mandate

Washington state government agencies have begun sending out separation notices to employees who have not yet provided proof of vaccination.

Department of Licensing spokesperson Nathan Olson told The Seattle Times that it had sent out 66 notifications on Friday. Department of Labor & Industries spokesperson Matt Ross told the newspaper that his agency had sent out 140 letters on Saturday.

The Department of Corrections said it had previously sent out about 1,000 early notices to workers for clarification on whether they had gotten vaccinated. Spokesperson Jacque Coe said most of the department's employees who received early notices were union represented and thus would go through an "investigative process" before a formal separation notice is sent.

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In August, Washington Gov. Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeEquilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Southern Company — Armadillo army takes over North Carolina town Washington redistricting commission fails, punts maps to Supreme Court Atmospheric river unleashes flooding in Washington state MORE (D) ordered most state employees and healthcare workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Inslee's order required that they provide proof of vaccination by Oct. 18, unless they had been approved for religious or medical exemptions.

His mandate is stricter than what other governors or local government leaders have enacted, as it did not allow for employees to choose weekly COVID-19 testing as an alternative to getting vaccinated.

At the time, Inslee's office said employees who do not have a valid reason for not getting vaccinated — political and philosophical reasons would not be considered — would face “nondisciplinary dismissal."

Inslee's order affects the roughly 60,000 state employees in Washington state.

In September, Washington state troopers and firefighters filed a lawsuit against Inslee, claiming that his order went beyond his authority and violated the state's constitution.

In the suit, they claimed that Inslee's order violated "the authority of his office by the Washington Constitution statute, and, independently, violates the rights guaranteed to the state workers by the Washington constitution and applicable statutes."

When asked by the Times about the potential to lose workers, Inslee's spokesperson Tara Lee told the Times that “warning notices are just that, warnings.”

“This is a snapshot in time and not what the final numbers will be,” said Lee. “We remain hopeful that more state employees will chose to get vaccinated and remain in the workforce."