Masked visitors to Disney World taking pictures with Mickey Mouse. Credit: CBS

Disney lifts COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees at Disney World

Employees of Walt Disney World Resort in Florida no longer have to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to go to work, the entertainment giant said in an internal memo to staff.

Although Disney World implemented a companywide vaccine requirement policy in July, a Florida law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis last week prohibits the company from enforcing it, along with other employers with vaccine mandates.

“We must pause the enforcement of our policy for Florida-based cast members and employees,” Disney managers said in the Friday memo obtained by Fox35 in Orlando.

“Cast members” refers to the actors who dress up as Disney characters — like Tiana or Mulan — and walk around the theme park. Employees who are not vaccinated will now have to wear face coverings and maintain social distance from co-workers and guests, Disney said in the memo.

Disney confirmed the suspension of its vaccine policy with CBS MoneyWatch on Monday. The company wouldn’t say if it plans to challenge Florida’s new law.

“We believe that our approach to mandatory vaccines has been the right one as we’ve continued to focus on the safety and well-being of our cast members and guests,” a Disney spokesperson said in an emailed statement, adding that 90% of Florida employees are already vaccinated. “We will address legal developments as appropriate,” the spokesperson said.

In response to Disney’s policy suspension, Gov. DeSantis’ office last week tweeted that it hoped the tourism mecca and other businesses in the state would go even further in their compliance with the new law.

“Nobody should lose his or her job over these mandates,” DeSantis’ spokeswoman Christina Pushaw said in a tweeted statement Friday. “Disney is a major employer in Florida and we are proud that the happiest place on Earth is here in our state. We hope Disney and any other company that has suspended or terminated workers due to vaccine mandates will consider re-hiring them.”

DeSantis signed the vaccine mandate ban during a press conference last week and called the law the “strongest piece of legislation that’s been enacted anywhere in the country.” DeSantis also said the law is intended to respect “people’s individual freedoms.”

DeSantis signed the ban as Florida experiences its first uptick in new coronavirus cases since August, according to the latest state health department data. The Sunshine State reported nearly 11,000 new coronavirus cases between November 12 and November 18, 82 more cases than the previous week. An additional 384 people died from COVID-19 last week, bringing the statewide total to 61,081.

Disney’s immunization policy pause only applies to Disney World and not to its other theme parks across the globe, including Disneyland in California, Tokyo Disney in Japan, Disneyland Paris in France and Shanghai Disney in China.

Thousands of workers were laid off across Disney theme parks in California and Florida during the pandemic. Disney reopened its resorts in July after closing them for more than 13 months, losing billions of dollars in ticket and concession sales. Since then, more than 50,000 cast members have returned to work, according to the Disney Parks website. Disney World Resort division currently employs more than 65,000 people.

Author: Khristopher J. Brooks / CBS
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