Metro Atlanta cities could consider vaccine mandates for city employees

Credit: City of Stone Mountain

Credit: City of Stone Mountain

As the delta variant drives cases higher and President Joe Biden has mandated vaccines for a large number of the nation’s workforce, metro Atlanta cities may soon discuss their own mandates for employees.

One city had already begun the discussion, but still hasn’t made a decision. A few days before Biden’s Thursday announcement of a vaccine mandate for federal employees and large companies, Stone Mountain city leaders tossed around ideas to increase the city’s employee vaccination rates. Bonuses, extra sick leave, required COVID-19 testing and a vaccine mandate were all considered, but no action was taken during their Tuesday meeting.

The idea of mandating city employees to get the shot didn’t seem to gain traction among most councilmembers, who focused more on educating and nudging employees to get vaccinated.

“At some point we’re going to have to really look very hard at public employees who are required to deal with the public, putting the public in jeopardy,” said Councilman Clint Monroe. “I don’t know if an incentive is enough, but at some point all city employees need to be vaccinated or put on some kind of restricted or limited duty.”

Decatur Mayor Patti Garrett also told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday that she’s open to the idea of mandating vaccines for city employees. Her city was among the first to reimplement a mask mandate last month amid rising COVID-19 cases.

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“The pandemic continues to take an undue toll on all of us, and we have not managed on our own to significantly impact the spread and losses caused by the pandemic,” Garrett said in an email. “That said, any decision with respect to the staff is up to the City Manager and I will support the decision. Since the President’s vaccine mandate was only released yesterday, my guess is that it is premature to speculate on this.”

City Manager Andrea Arnold did not respond to requests before publication.

Biden said Thursday he would require as many as 100 million Americans to get vaccinated or lose their jobs. The policy includes private-sector businesses with more than 100 workers, workers at healthcare facilities that receive federal medical funding and federal executive branch employees and contractors. Gov. Brian Kemp quickly pushed back, saying he would “pursue every legal option available” to stop it.

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Other metro Atlanta cities have offered perks to employees to encourage vaccinations. In Lawrenceville, vaccinated city employees can get bonuses varying from $100 to $200 depending on when they get the shot. They can also receive paid administrative leave if they still get the virus, while unvaccinated employees must use personal time off if they get sick.

Atlanta delayed reopening its City Hall in July due to the uptick in COVID-19 cases. The city, which maintains an indoor mask mandate, also began exploring potential incentives for vaccinated city employees but has not implemented any at this point. City leaders did not provide any updates Friday.

In Doraville, vaccinated employees will receive $250 if they’re fully vaccinated by the end of September. Employees who received one vaccine dose by Sept. 2 received an extra floating holiday.

Doraville City Manager Chris Eldridge said the city doesn’t plan to change its current policy following Biden’s announcement. He added that Doraville’s city employees are currently 65% fully vaccinated, with another 9% having at least one shot. That’s a higher percentage than DeKalb County residents, of whom 48% are fully vaccinated. It’s significantly higher than Stone Mountain, which lags both with only 10 out of 31 city employees being vaccinated — about 32%.

“Some feel that there is not enough information,” Stone Mountain City Manager ChaQuias Miller-Thornton said Tuesday. “... I think that implementing an education program may help to increase our percentage of vaccinations among the employee population.”

On Friday, Miller-Thornton told the AJC she recommends the city implement education events to promote vaccine safety and to explore the possibility of regularly testing staff for COVID-19, regardless of vaccination status.

Currently, all Stone Mountain employees get paid time off if they contract the virus, but the council could tweak that policy to only apply to vaccinated employees. Miller-Thornton drafted new protocols which would offer a $150 bonus for vaccinated employees. The City Council will consider the new policies at a later meeting.

A check of other cities didn’t turn up any planning to change their city employee policies following Biden’s announcement. Duluth, Snellville, Peachtree Corners and Stonecrest all don’t have any incentive programs on the books and didn’t plan to discuss them as a result of Biden’s mandate.

— AJC reporters Wilborn P. Nobles III and Tyler Wilkins contributed to this report