Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
Unvaccinated Sandia National Laboratories employees can breathe a sigh of relief – at least for now.
Lab officials have decided to pause enforcement of a previously announced vaccine mandate that was set to go into effect this month, Scott Aeilts, Sandia’s associate labs director of mission services, told the Journal on Tuesday.
The labs’ decision comes amid an ongoing lawsuit that a handful of unvaccinated lab employees have filed to stop them from facing consequences for not getting their shots.
“We do remain committed at Sandia to the health and safety of all of our employees or subcontractors,” Aeilts said. “And, at this time, we just recently made a decision to pause the enforcement of the mandate here at Sandia. So that’s something we have elected to do.”
Sandia officials had previously issued directives that all employees and subcontractors be fully vaccinated by mid-January.
President Joe Biden last year issued an order requiring the COVID-19 vaccine for federal workers and contractors. The requirement has faced numerous legal challenges, some of which are pending.
One of the cases was brought by Sandia employees who have formed the SNL Workforce Freedom Alliance. The group filed a complaint and request for injunctive relief in federal court last month.
Ana Garner, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said previously that the case was an effort to stop the labs from putting negative pressure on employees who refuse to get vaccinated. She could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
A spokeswoman for Sandia said the labs announced last week a pause on any disciplinary action against employees who have not been vaccinated, as well as on processing religious or medical exemptions.
“Despite the pause in enforcement, Sandia continues to encourage the small percentage of employees who remain unvaccinated to become fully vaccinated to create a safer workplace at the labs and help deter community spread,” Manette Fisher, a spokeswoman for the labs, said in an email.
The Office of Management and Budget has said agencies can use discretion in terms of what action to take against unvaccinated employees, the Hill, a newspaper and digital media company in Washington, D.C., reported this week.
Sandia officials previously told the Journal that the vast majority of its roughly 12,300 employees and contractors in New Mexico are fully vaccinated.