The city of Enid is set to offer incentive payments to employees who get vaccinated against COVID-19, beginning Monday.

City staff will receive eight hours of paid leave upon showing proof to human resources of a complete dose of COVID vaccination by a yet-announced time, as part of a new directive Enid City Manager Jerald Gilbert sent to employees at the end of the first week of August.

No alternative accommodations will be offered for employees who claim exemption from the vaccine because of medical or religious reasons.

Gilbert said he and city leadership believed incentivizing the vaccine is a good approach to handling the virus within the city administration building and facilities.

The directive, which lasts indefinitely, updates staff how to handle COVID problems since the coronavirus has again become an issue in the immediate Enid area, owing to the virus’ highly contagious delta variant.

Nearly all hospitalized COVID cases in the last 30 days were not fully vaccinated patients, according to last week’s Oklahoma State Health Department epidemiology report.

“Because the evidence shows vaccinated people are less likely to get sick, and if they get sick, they will be less sick,” Gilbert said Friday. “We’re all trying to maintain safe work environments for the public.”

Around 500 people currently work for the city of Enid, he said.

An entry-level city employee receives at least $8.49 an hour of base pay (or $67.92 a work day), according to the current agreement with the Enid chapter of the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees union.

Gilbert, who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, said the city currently has no idea who has or hasn’t been vaccinated as an official count.

Instead of COVID-specific sick time off, now employees who get sick with COVID-19, regardless of vaccination status, would use their sick leave and follow CDC guidelines to isolate while contagious, Gilbert said. City of Enid employees normally receive 12 days (or 96 hours) of sick leave each calendar year, he said.

Michael Humphries, rep of the local union chapter, could not be reached for comment about the directive Friday. Humphries works as water foreman in the city’s Utility Maintenance Department.

In May, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) updated its COVID-19 guidance that employers are permitted to offer vaccine incentives. However, workplaces must accommodate those who cannot take the vaccine because of disability or religious objection.

The workplace instead must provide alternatives to those employees to obtain the incentive, such as accepting a regular COVID test.

According to EEOC, employers can ask for proof of vaccination without violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, by asking to see a vaccination card or submit a written affirmation, then to be kept on a separate record. Such proof of vaccination status is not subject to disability-related inquiries covered by ADA, according to EEOC.

As offering vaccine incentives to citizens and private company employees has risen in popularity, American cities have lately been following suit, while vaccine incentives have largely fallen by the wayside throughout Oklahoma.

Winter Park, Fla., is offering $150 to its 549 city employees who provide proof of vaccination over the next six weeks, Winter Park’s city manager said last week.

The city council of Abilene, Texas, meanwhile, suspended a 40-hour incentive initiative in July.

In Oklahoma, Nichols Hills in January offered employees 40 hours additional vacation time, along with COVID-related sick leave. In March, Lawton city councilors approved offering city employees $100 to get vaccinated.

Lawton on Aug. 5 announced a return to requiring masks in all municipal buildings and facilities, with social distancing mandates taking effect Friday.

Gilbert said he could not make employees wear a mask, but can suggest wearing them.

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Ewald is copy editor and city/education reporter for the Enid News & Eagle.

Have a question about this story? Do you see something we missed? Send an email to aewald@enidnews.com.

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