Updated vaccine mandate for Student Union, Athletics Department

(Illustration by Julie Freijat | Collegian Media Group)

Following an update from the federal government, employees of the Kansas State Student Union and K-State Athletics will need to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4, 2022, under President Joe Biden’s executive order from Sept. 9, 2021.

Before the new update, both the Union and Athletics Department thought those departments were governed by the Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Nov. 4. A stay order currently halts the ETS; however, employers with over 100 employees must ensure each employee is fully vaccinated. If employees choose not to be vaccinated, they must wear masks and provide weekly negative COVID-19 tests.

However, on Nov. 12, the university formally announced that while both entities are independent of the university, they still fall under its control. Therefore, they must comply with the executive order and not the ETS.

Jeffrey Morris, vice president for communications and marketing, said after receiving new guidance from the federal government, K-State’s General Counsel consulted with other universities in Kansas to determine which entities are affected by the executive order.

Morris said General Counsel then gave its opinion to the university administration.

“We have a group that gives us what the opinions are, and we have a COVID executive planning group that meets twice a week,” Morris said. “We looked at it and said, ‘OK, based on what we’ve seen and what other people think, that this would apply to us.'”

Morris said those groups determined the Union and Athletics would be governed by the executive order, while the KSU Foundation and Alumni Association would remain under the ETS.

“Both the Union and K-State Athletics have governing boards,” Morris said. “The difference is the university has substantial control over those boards because of who’s on the boards. For example, there are designated university administrators or university people that are on those boards. In some cases, there’s other people, but when you look at it, you say we can exercise substantial control over those boards as a university.”

Gene Taylor, athletic director at K-State, said there had been previous questions as to whether the athletic department fell under the executive order or not.

“When the notice first came out, there were a lot of questions about Athletics, generally,” Taylor said. “So, a lot of our staff already knows what they need to do, and then when we announced that we weren’t going to be a part of that, and then came back. So, there was a little confusion we had to clear up with our staff.”

Taylor said he expects few issues from his department since around 90 percent of employees in Athletics are already vaccinated.

“I don’t really anticipate any major issues,” Taylor said. “Just trying to clear up the confusion from the being at one position at one point and then change to the other position. We’re working through it, but so far, everybody’s been cooperative and understanding.”

Cindy Diederich, the Union’s assistant director of human resources and business management, said the Union notified its employees about the update in the afternoon of Nov. 12. In addition, she said the Union held a town hall meeting on Monday with all Union employees.

“We have notified all of our employees that the opting to not get vaccinated but instead choosing to do the weekly testing is no longer an option for us,” Diederich said. “It’s either vaccination, religious exemption, medical exemption or termination … Unfortunately, we have to draw that line in the sand.”

Diederich said the Union’s main issue is that the university announced the executive order affects its employees on Oct. 22. However, the Union’s employees were not informed it affected them until Nov. 12.

“For us, the real concern is, we’re behind the eight ball right now with giving our employees the time necessary in order to get the vaccinations if they haven’t already,” Diederich said. “That’s the one thing that I wish I could change, but I can’t.”

Morris said although the federal government moved the vaccine deadline to Jan. 4, 2022, K-State opted to keep its internal deadline.

“Especially with the exemptions, we really need to know where people stand,” Morris said. “The reason that timeline was set up was to meet the original December deadline, and even though the full vaccination deadline has shifted, it’s still important for us from an operational standpoint to know if people are going to be compliant or not with the policy.”

Morris also said the university wanted to remain consistent.

“We didn’t want to keep sending mixed signals to people, saying, ‘The date’s here, now it’s here,'” Morris said. “So, we just wanted to come out and say, ‘This is what we said.’ Everybody’s aware of that. The expectations are set so people can plan accordingly.”

Diederich said the Union is trying to balance its employees’ situations with the mandates.

“We’re trying to give our employees as much grace as possible, and we empathize with people’s situation,” Diederich said.

She also said people’s health in the Union is a priority.

“We want to make sure that our staff, our visitors and our students are all safe and healthy, and if this is the way to do that, then we’re going to support it 100 percent,” Diederich said.

Morris said he hopes all employees comply with the mandate.

“We really hope people decide to get vaccinated or request an exemption because we really don’t want to have people leave,” Morris said.

Updates about COVID-19 and vaccine mandates at K-State are available through the university’s COVID-19 website.