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R.I. will give unvaccinated workers 75 days — unpaid — to get COVID-19 shots after Oct. 1 deadline

Workers at the state-run hospital system and nursing home will be subject to discipline, up to termination, if they refuse to get vaccinated after being placed on unpaid leave

Vaccination needles at a Rhode Island COVID-19 vaccine clinic in March 2021.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE — Workers at the state-run hospital system and nursing home will be placed on leave without pay for 75 days if they’re not vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 1. If they still refuse to get vaccinated during that time, they will be subject to progressive discipline, up to termination, according to policies unveiled Tuesday.

Affected employees work at Eleanor Slater Hospital, which has campuses in Burrillville and Cranston, and the Veterans Home, a state-run nursing home in Bristol, according to an email obtained by the Globe. A Q&A has been posted online.

The state Department of Health put out regulations requiring workers in state-licensed health care facilities and other health care providers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 1. Until then, unvaccinated workers have to be tested twice weekly. After that, the facility has to bar unvaccinated workers from entering. Health care providers in other settings can also have disciplinary action taken against their licenses. That applies to both public and private institutions. The state regulation has a medical exemption, but not a religious one.

On Tuesday, the state told its own workers how it will enforce the policy at the health care facilities that it runs. The 75 unpaid days will give workers time to get their shots; the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require two shots, spaced a few weeks apart.


Department of Administration Director James Thorsen said in an email Tuesday, obtained by the Globe, that the state is not seeing a spike in COVID-19-related deaths because the vaccines work.

“It is critical that as many eligible individuals as possible get vaccinated, especially those in close contact with some of the most vulnerable Rhode Islanders, including older individuals and those with underlying health conditions,” Thorsen wrote.

The vaccine mandate has come up against opposition, with 33 House lawmakers asking for Gov. Dan McKee to back off the Oct. 1 deadline.


The state Department of Administration also said in its Q&A about the policy that employees who are fired for failing to get vaccinated probably won’t get unemployment, “although each claim is evaluated on a case-by-case basis.”

“Failing to comply with a clearly and timely articulated vaccine requirement would likely, in most cases, be considered a knowing violation of a reasonable employer policy, which could disqualify an individual from receiving unemployment insurance,” the state says.

Brian Amaral can be reached at brian.amaral@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bamaral44.