KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — University of Tennessee President Randy Boyd says he plans to take a compassionate approach to handling new federal vaccine requirements.
In a meeting Friday, he told the Board of Trustees the system is reviewing who will be impacted by the new rule. He also clarified the reason for sending a memo to university staff Thursday.
“We did not issue a vaccine mandate yesterday,” Boyd said. “We shared with our employees that it could be imminent.” Boyd noted the goal of the memo was to help ensure UT was compliant by the end of the year and that its employees were prepared.
Boyd further explained the requirement applies to employees working directly on federal contracts. It also covers their direct contacts, as well as those working in the same building. He noted some buildings may have no impact, but that it would have to be determined on a case-by-case basis. “…Volleyball, for example, probability is there is nobody in that facility working on a federal contract,” he added.
Despite many unknowns, this is certain: the new federal mandate includes two exemptions, for medical or religious reasons. Boyd said campuses will require an authentic note from a physician to qualify for medical exemption; however, he said, the system will take employee claims of religious beliefs at face value.
“There’s no test of sincerely held beliefs,” he said. “If you attest that you have this belief then we take you at your word.” He also pledged no employee would be sent home on unpaid leave as a result of their filing for a vaccine exemption.
“There’s a lot of nuances that we’re still trying to understand. At the same time, the executive order has a deadline that we had to be in compliance by December 8. If you start working that backwards, when do our employees have to get their first vaccination for us to be able to comply? That date is Oct. 27.”