More than 50 King County Sheriff’s Office employees retired, resigned or were fired because they refused to get the COVID-19 vaccination, according to the sheriff’s office.
Interim Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall and legal advisor Erin Overbey briefed the King County Council on the effects of the COVID-19 mandate on May 10.
The COVID-19 vaccine mandate for King County Executive staff issued on Aug. 10, 2021, required staff to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18, 2021, unless they received a religious or medical exemption, Cole-Tindall said.
After the mandate was announced, 81 sheriff’s office employees applied for religious exemptions and 17 applied for medical exemptions, Overbey said. The county granted 84 exemptions and denied five, while only three employees were granted accommodations and 86 were denied, according to the sheriff’s office.
The only employees who were given accommodations were those who could perform 100% of their work duties remotely, Overbey said. That meant that staff who are required to interact in person with the public or other staff were not given accommodations, Overbey said.
Some employees quit before a determination had been made regarding their exemption, Overbey said. After accommodation determinations were made, 27 commissioned and six professional employees were fired. In addition to this, 20 commissioned and two professional employees chose to retire or resign.
“We actually lost, unfortunately, a large number of people during this process,” Overbey said.
There are currently 113 commissioned and 59 professional employee vacancies at the King County Sheriff’s Office. The COVID-19 mandate accounts for about 31% of the total vacancies.
The King County Sheriff’s Office had the highest percentage of employees terminated due to lack of vaccinations out of all King County departments, according to the King County Executive’s Office. Approximately 4.6% of sheriff’s office employees were terminated because they didn’t get vaccinated.
Cole-Tindall said that prior to the vaccine mandate, there was still a large number of vacancies caused by several factors including the fact a large number of employees were eligible for retirement around the same time.
The sheriff’s office is putting a lot of resources into hiring new employees, including $15,000 signing bonuses for lateral hires of commissioned employees and $7,500 for entry-level employees, Cole-Tindall said.