'Delicate business decisions:' New health order requires vaccine status of workers in Santa Clara Co

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Santa Clara County is moving away from remote working. County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody announced the safety measure is no longer necessary, now that the region is in a "very different and much safer place."

At a press conference Tuesday, she pointed to the county's high vaccination rates and low COVID-19 case numbers.

"So I am rescinding the October risk reduction order," Dr. Cody announced. "And I'm replacing it with a very simple order. And this order does just three things."

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Among the list of new requirements taking effect Wednesday, employers will have to verify whether employees are vaccinated.

Rebecca Lapena lives and works within the county. She told ABC7 News, this specific rule offers some comfort, as she prepares to return to the office.

"But I still do worry about people who are vulnerable in the workplace," she shared. "You know, people who cannot receive the vaccine for religious reasons or maybe medical purposes."

For that reason, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group (SLVG) explained there are a lot of legal issues at play.

"We've already been contacted by many of our 350 member companies, who have questions about how to actually be compliant with the new health order," Peter Leroe-Munoz told ABC7 News.

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He's serves as General Counsel as well as SVP of tech policy and innovation for SLVG.

"This is a big legal issue about whether employers can require vaccinations. Now, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has offered guidance on whether employers can require COVID vaccinations," he elaborated. "And the answer to that is yes, with exemptions for religious objection, or disability."

He explained that private businesses have the legal discretion to set a good portion of the standards for their employees, but also for patrons, clients or members of the public who actually come to those work sites.

"This new health order goes into effect tomorrow- on Wednesday. And businesses have a very short period of time in which to ascertain whether or not their employees are actually vaccinated," Leroe-Munoz continued. "So it's certainly a period of time in which our employers and companies here in Santa Clara County are going to have to move very quickly, while also trying to understand exactly what their compliance requirements are."

He added, "Moreover, they're going to have to make some very delicate business decisions with regard to their office culture."

Leroe-Munoz said this also includes setting expectations for the way customers and visitors behave.

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In Downtown San Jose, Haberdasher SJ owner, Cache Bouren, already has a plan to address patrons.

"I'm 'Captain Safety' over here nowadays," Bouren joked. "I'm going to require all guests that do come inside- post June 15- to be able to show proof of vaccination."

The move to the less-restrictive yellow tier allows bars to open at 25-percent capacity, or 100 people. However, Bouren is delaying indoor operations until the state's anticipated reopening date.

"That capacity thing, it doesn't really affect my decision to reopen or not really," he shared with ABC7 News. "We want to reopen when we're as safe as possible."

Bouren explained, the last time Haberdasher SJ served patrons indoors was Sunday, March 15.

"We did a bit of a closing-for-some-reason party we still didn't have our heads around what was coming," he said.

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Bouren said, "We're going to wait for June 15. A big part of that is our staff's health and well-being."

He said he and his employees will take the time to mentally adjust, preparing staff to serve and prepare cocktails in front of guests again.

"On top of that, not all of them have finished their second shot- their second vaccination," Bouren shared.

He's also requiring his employees be vaccinated before returning to work.

"Personally, from my own staff- not being aware of the legalities- I just kind of blatantly made it required to get a COVID vaccine for all the employees," he told ABC7 News. "I did that because I'm thinking of their own health. The fact that they're going to be exposed to so many people in our line of work, especially once they come inside, I wanted all of them to be vaccinated."

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The new health order also requires businesses define safety rules for those who are unvaccinated. It also continues to require workplaces and schools report when they have a COVID case.

Lapena shared her thoughts on the new health order, as it pertains to her workday.

"I hear good and bad news. Good news, it will actually give me a chance to meet my new team and see them in the real world, and actually see a desk and just feel some kind of normalcy," she shared. "Whereas, on the bad side, it's because I'm so used to this. Now, I actually love working at home. You know, I save on gas, I'm a lot more productive. My car insurance bill has decreased because I'm not driving as much. So, I see pros and cons on both sides."

She explained she's fully vaccinated, but added, "There's still so many unknowns about this disease, which is why it makes me nervous. And of course, you can't control other people. I can only worry about myself. So I definitely feel some anxiety, going back and having distance taken away."

Leroe-Munoz understands there will be some anxiety as the county makes the transition.

"As we transition out, there's going to be a period where there is some uncertainty or a little bit of anxiety- maybe on the part of some employers, in terms of making these asks for information from their own employees," he said. "And there very well might be anxiety on the part of employees who feel that they're being asked for information that might be sensitive to them."

"So I think it's going to be a period of transition, that's going to take a little bit of time," he continued. "What I will say is, Silicon Valley has always been very flexible and has always pivoted faster than people think it can."

He said, in that respect, he's hopeful this transition will be a little bit faster than some people might fear it will be.



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