DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – Montgomery County Prosecutor Mat Heck, Jr. sent an email to staff last week saying employees will be required to return to his office, and to do so they would need to get vaccinated.
He said requiring the vaccine to work in his office is a step to get the court process back on track.
“It was not an easy decision for me to make, but it was a necessary, and I think responsible decision,” Heck said.
Heck said the pandemic disrupted the entire criminal justice system. Trials were postponed, grand jury sessions canceled and at one point his office was 600 cases behind.
Heck said he made the decision not just to protect his staff, but the many people they interact with in the community.
“Our prosecutors, our support staff, they meet with the victims, they meet with the vicitim survivors, they meet with police officers, judges, potential jurors, witnesses, children, many many children,” Heck said. “I think we have the responsibility, as the elected prosecuting attorney and the boss of a large office, to make sure and act responsibily to protect my employees and everybody they’re coming in contact with.”
Heck said employees will not have to be vaccinated if they have a medical concern or a religious reason to not receive the vaccine.
Meanwhile, Ohio lawmakers have introduced a bill that would prevent people from losing their jobs over the vaccine, among other things.
House Bill 248, or the Vaccine Choice and Anti-Discrimination Act would protect people who choose not to get vaccinated from any consequences or discrimination.
However, University of Dayton law professor Thaddeus Hoffmeister said it is legal for an employer to require vaccinations.
“His demand that his employees get the vaccination seems very reasonable, especially in light of the work they do, the people they interact with and the fact that failure to do so would put the general public at risk,” Hoffmeister said.
Hoffmeister said it wouldn’t be surprising to see a lawsuit out of Heck’s decision, but case law is in his favor.
“The courts have routinely upheld the right of the state to require vaccinations of folks,” Hoffmeister said.
Hoffmeister said instead of requring the vaccine, employers should first consider incentivizing it.
Heck said most of his staff did get the vaccine after he sent an email about a month ago encouraging everyone to get the vaccine.
He plans to bring all of his staff back to the office in the coming weeks and had multiple vaccinated employees express concerns about being close to unvaccinated employees.
“I can’t be bringing people back where some have it, some haven’t, and then they’re sitting next to each other, that’s just not doable and not fair or safe,” Heck said.