Mecklenburg revises latest totals for employee suspensions over COVID testing rules

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More than 350 Mecklenburg County government employees have been suspended as of Friday afternoon for failing to comply with the county’s COVID-19 vaccination and testing protocols.

That’s a significant drop from just Friday morning, when county officials had disclosed more than 500 employees were suspended

The fluctuating numbers come as county officials verify whether some employees were wrongly suspended amid Mecklenburg’s new workplace coronavirus protocols that took effect this week. Some employees may have delivered their COVID documentation to the wrong department or supervisor, prompting a suspension that was later revoked.

The new tally was released Friday afternoon, after the Observer obtained an email County Manager Dena Diorio sent to county officials. The 356 suspensions across all departments means 6.1% of the county’s workers are suspended.

That count includes 322 employees suspended from Mecklenburg County departments, except for the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office or Charlotte Mecklenburg Library — both agencies have separate Human Resources offices.

Some 34 library employees were also suspended earlier this week.

No sheriff’s office employees have been suspended for noncompliance with the COVID-19 testing protocol. The office will conduct an internal investigation and consider if any disciplinary action is needed, spokeswoman Janet Parker told the Observer.

The number of suspensions continues to decline from what county officials first revealed on Wednesday, when roughly 600 employees were sent suspension notices.

County officials had told the Observer those notices needed to be verified, particularly among employees who sent their COVID test information to the wrong department and had been wrongfully suspended.

In total, for county agencies excluding the library and sheriff’s office 187 full-time employees, 81 part-time employees and 54 temporary employees are suspended for noncompliance, according to the email Diorio sent to assistant county managers and county commissioners.

Mecklenburg began enforcing Diorio’s COVID-19 workforce policies this week. The county requires all unvaccinated and partially vaccinated employees to undergo weekly COVID testing — and provide proof of a negative test result.

Over 500 Mecklenburg County employees have been suspended for noncompliance with the county COVID-19 vaccination and testing requirements.
Over 500 Mecklenburg County employees have been suspended for noncompliance with the county COVID-19 vaccination and testing requirements.

The cost of weekly testing is covered by insurance, county spokeswoman Pam Escobar has told the Observer.

Diorio, who announced the policy in early August amid fears over the highly contagious delta variant, stopped short of imposing a vaccine mandate for all county employees. But Mecklenburg County Public Health employees are required to be vaccinated.

Unlike the city of Charlotte, Mecklenburg is not offering financial incentives to encourage more employees to get their COVID-19 shots. City Manager Marcus Jones has yet to impose a similar weekly COVID testing protocol for unvaccinated Charlotte government workers.

Nearly 74% of county employees are vaccinated as of Friday, according to the latest information shared with the Observer. That compares to 69.6% last week. Only 85.4% of Mecklenburg County Public Health employees are immunized, despite that being the only department facing a vaccine mandate.

By comparison, just 54% of all Mecklenburg County residents are fully vaccinated, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

County officials didn’t disclose to the Observer on Friday how many employees were approved for medical or religious vaccination exemptions.

Mecklenburg department suspensions

The Park and Recreation Department had the highest number of employees suspended for noncompliance: 135. That represents 18% of the staff. The majority of those suspended employees — 106 — are part-time or temporary workers.

The Department of Social Services had the second highest total number of suspended,with 69 full-time workers suspended out of 81 total suspended employees. That’s 7% of the staff.

The Board of Elections saw the greatest drop in suspensions following the county’s verification process. On Thursday, officials said 101 employees there — or 79% of the department — were suspended. On Friday, the number plummeted to just nine suspended employees, or 7% of the department.

Library spokeswoman Asha Ellison told the Observer that 34 out of 428 library employees were suspended on Wednesday for noncompliance with the COVID-19 testing policy.

And sheriff’s office spokeswoman Janet Parker told the Observer that the office has no non-compliant employees — even though the office reported one of the lowest vaccination rates among county agencies, with 58.9% of 1,019 full-time employees vaccinated as of Friday.

Suspensions, dismissals

The county explained its COVID-19 testing policy in a town hall meeting with employees Thursday morning, later posted on online.

Officials faced nearly 50 minutes of questions from employees in the meeting, along with complaints about long waits at testing sites.

Fully vaccinated county employees must submit proof of vaccination to Human Resources, county Human Resources Director Paula Woodhouse told employees. And unvaccinated employees, or employees who are partially vaccinated, must submit a negative COVID-19 test result to Human Resources every seven days, she said.

Anyone who misses the seven-day deadline will be suspended immediately without pay, she said. And any employee who is noncompliant for two consecutive weeks will be fired.

Suspension list

Here is the full breakdown of suspensions by county department, including all employees:

Asset and Facility Management: 3 employees suspended (8% of department)

County Attorney’s Office: 0 employees suspended

Office of Internal Audit: 0 employees suspended

County Assessor’s Office: 5 employees suspended (5% of department)

Criminal Justice Services: 2 employees suspended (3% of department)

Community Support Services: 8 employees suspended (5% of department)

Department of Community Resources: 4 employees suspended (2% of department)

Department Social Services: 69 employees suspended (6% of department)

Economic Development Office: 1 employees suspended (13% of department)

Board of Elections: 9 employees suspended (7% of department)

County Finance Department: 5 employees suspended (4% of department)

Historic Landmarks Commission: 0 employees suspended (0% of department)

Public Health Department: 30 employees suspended (4% of department)

Human Resources Department: 0 employees suspended

Information Technology Services Department: 6 employees suspended (4% of department)

Land Use and Environmental Services Department: 34 employees suspended (7% of department)

Office of the Medical Examiner: 0 employees suspended

County Manager’s Office: 5 employees suspended (8% of department)

Public Information Department: 0 employees suspended

Park and Recreation Department: 135 employees suspended (18% of department)

Register of Deeds: 3 employees suspended (8% of department)

Office of the Tax Collector: 4 employees suspended (9% of department)

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