Broward County’s mayor announced Wednesday that the county will give bonuses to vaccinated employees and charge unvaccinated ones as part of a tactic to boost vaccination rates while navigating a state mandate that bars local governments from requiring COVID-19 vaccines.
Mayor Steve Geller said during a news conference Wednesday that all fully vaccinated employees will receive a one-time $500 bonus, and that all unvaccinated employees will see a $20 surcharge on their biweekly paycheck and will be required to get a weekly COVID-19 test. The bonuses and surcharges only apply to county employees receiving benefits, he said.
“I refer to this as the carrot and twig approach because it’s not a huge stick,” Geller said.
The new rule will go into effect no later than October 1 and will include a 60-day incentive period for employees to get their shots, Geller said.
After the 60 days, those who have not shown proof of vaccination will begin paying the biweekly surcharge. Employees who get vaccinated after the incentive period will see the surcharge disappear from their next paycheck, but there will not be any back pay.
If at the end of the year, the county finds that an overwhelming percentage of employees are vaccinated, “we will leave it at that,” Geller said.
He said the policy is meant to encourage employees to be fully vaccinated and to “take into account the healthcare-related costs associated with COVID-19-positive unvaccinated employees.”
Geller said he did not know what percent of the roughly 6,800 county employees are vaccinated.
The announcement came two days after Gov. Ron DeSantis said Florida will fine local governments $5,000 for each employee who is required to be vaccinated, threatening some cities and counties with millions of dollars in penalties for adopting strict vaccine “mandates.”
DeSantis’ office did not immediately comment and referred questions to the Florida Department of Health.
Gainesville, Orange County and Leon County have each passed requirements that employees be vaccinated or be fired, with exemptions for religious or medical reasons.
Geller said the county is trying to work in compliance with both the governor’s executive order and state laws.
“We believe we have the legal right to do more if this is not sufficient,” Geller said. “We are trying this first step to try and get us where we need to go.”
Florida on Wednesday reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 10,723 more COVID-19 cases and three deaths, according to Miami Herald calculations of CDC data.
According to Florida Department of Health data, 79% of Broward residents 12 years of age and older are vaccinated. The county reported 7,108 new COVID-19 cases last week.
This is a breaking news article and will be updated as more information becomes available.