Treasurer Deborah Goldberg and Auditor Suzanne Bump both announced Thursday that their employees will be required to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or submit to weekly testing for the coronavirus when they return to their offices in the coming months.
The decisions to enact mandated vaccination policies come during a week that has seen similar requirements imposed by the U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs, Google, Facebook, Netflix, New York state government, the state of California, many Massachusetts hospitals and others, and as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control revised its guidance in light of the Delta variant's ongoing rampage.
"One of the things that we have learned as we intend to move further into our hybrid workplace is that people's greatest fears — because we have done surveys — is coming to work and being with people who are not vaccinated but they don't know who it is or where they are," Goldberg told the News Service. "So we want to be able to support everyone and we think that this policy does exactly that."
She said she thinks the policy will provide a sense of security to employees, almost all of whom are expected back in their offices on a flexible schedule in September.
The treasurer said she wanted to announce the new policy now to give employees who are not yet vaccinated enough time to complete the two-dose regimen before returning to work. If an employee does not submit vaccination verification, he or she will be responsible for any costs associated with weekly testing, though Goldberg pointed out that free testing is still available.
Bump told employees that her office's new policy will take effect Aug. 9. It requires proof of full vaccination before returning to work in the office or for an employee to submit at least one negative COVID-19 test result each week. Masks will be optional for vaccinated workers and required for unvaccinated employees.
"As the tide continues turning with COVID-19 and a resulting uptick in positive cases due to the Delta variant, I have been engaged in many conversations on how to best keep our staff members healthy and safe while in the workplace," the auditor wrote in an email to staff. She added, "This is not a decision that was taken lightly, but is one that we believe is necessary to uphold our value of keeping the well-being of staff members a top priority."
Goldberg said her office has "always leaned towards the conservative side" of things when it comes to COVID-19 safety measures. She said she believes her policy to mandate masks in the office unless an employee is alone has protected people from exposure to the Delta variant.
"As we saw the new CDC guidance this week, it became very clear — and looking at the daily numbers here in Massachusetts — that in order for people to be thinking about returning to work in the fall, we would need to do more to create a safe workplace. And we have an obligation to create a safe workplace," she said.
Goldberg said she hopes that other branches and offices of state government will follow her lead. "Let's really get to herd immunity so we don't have to confront this kind of situation again in the future," she said.
In May, Attorney General Maura Healey said that she will require some of her staffers to get vaccinated when they return to in-person, public-facing work. Her office said vaccination will be required for "employees who have regular interaction with the public when we return back to the office."
Gov. Charlie Baker, who got vaccinated himself and has urged others to do the same, is opposed to requiring state employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine. In May, he said he would rather focus on expanding access to the shots and communicating how effective the vaccines are.
"The idea that I would kick somebody out of a job — and especially in the kind of economy we have now — because, quote unquote, they wouldn't get vaccinated right away on an EUA-approved vaccine ... No. I'm not gonna play that game," Baker said.
The new Treasury policy will cover the roughly 800 employees under Goldberg's umbrella, including those who work for the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, Massachusetts School Building Authority, Massachusetts State Retirement Board, Massachusetts Lottery and other departments. There are about 220 employees in Bump's office.
In Boston, Mayor Kim Janey said Thursday that she is is "leaning toward" a mandate for city workers.
"We are strongly encouraging and working with our workforce to get everyone vaccinated. If it takes a mandate to get us there, that is what we will do," she said.