Johnson County to defer disciplinary action for unvaccinated county employees

In response to a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, Johnson County will cease enforcement of its vaccination, testing, and face covering policy. The suspension includes stopping disciplinary action regarding compliance with vaccination status forms and implementation of testing requirements.


Jack McGuire

Johnson County Board of Supervisor Chairperson Royceann Porter listens to Pat Heiden during a Johnson County Board of Supervisors meeting in Iowa City on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2022.

Cooper Worth, News Reporter

Johnson County will stop disciplining employees who do not comply with the county’s vaccination, testing, and face covering policy, including suspending testing requirements for unvaccinated staff.

During the Johnson County Board of Supervisors work session meeting Wednesday, Assistant Johnson County Attorney Susan Nehring recommended the supervisors pause and evaluate the county’s policy in light of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision and the emergence of the omicron variant.

The board previously approved the policy in December 2021.

Unvaccinated employees were previously required to submit a weekly COVID-19 test. If an employee failed to provide test results, their department’s supervisor would be notified.

Employees were also not allowed back in the workplace until they provided confirmation of a negative test.

On Jan. 13, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 6-3 ruling finding that the emergency temporary standards issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration requiring employers of more than 100 employees to adopt a policy of vaccine compliance in the workplace exceeded the scope of OSHA’s authority to regulate workplace hazards.

Nehring said the policy the county put in place has had success in getting employees vaccinated, reporting that less than 10 percent of county employees are not vaccinated based on the documentation received.

“We are going to be at approximately 90 percent of our employees vaccinated,” she said. “We are working in an environment where people have taken a lot of steps to be safe.”

The county included an incentive for employees to get vaccinated by providing additional paid leave for folks who were fully vaccinated if they ended up contracting COVID-19 and needed time off, Nehring said.

Nehring said employees have also been in compliance with the county’s face covering mandate, which requires all employees and visitors to wear face coverings while inside Johnson County facilities, regardless of COVID-19 vaccination status.

“We have not really had any significant issues with people complying with our face-covering policy, which is a huge part of keeping people safe at work and maintaining social distancing,” Nehring said.

Nehring said she has seen an increase in the number of employees coming down with COVID-19, however, as Johnson County reported nearly 2,600 new cases in the past week.

The county plans to open a new COVID-19 testing site in Iowa City at 821 S. Clinton Street pending a vote from the supervisors during their formal meeting on Jan. 20.

Nehring said she wants to work with a group consisting of representatives from the county’s human resources department, attorney’s office, and a member of the Supervisors to make recommendations regarding amendments to the policy.

“I am recommending that, rather than moving forward with adding an additional component to the policy, at this point, we take a pause and evaluate where we are,” Nehring said.