Denver employee vaccine exemptions: What qualifies for an approval?

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DENVER (KDVR) — The deadline is approaching for City of Denver employees and staff working in high-risk settings to comply with a public health order requiring COVID-19 vaccinations.

Those impacted have until Sept. 30 to be fully vaccinated, unless they have a medical or religious exemption. 

Denver City Attorney Kristin Bronson says they crafted the exemption request forms leaning slightly on their experience processing accommodation requests for the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

“We’ve got some processes that are very similar and we were able to adapt those for purposes of the vaccine mandate,” said Bronson.

The form for medical exemptions states that such exemptions will only be considered if employees have written documentation from a licensed medical provider, confirming they have a condition that could potentially make receiving the vaccine unsafe.

Providing proof of a sincerely held religious belief is not as straightforward. The form for religious exemptions requires employees to explain the religious principles or practices that guide their objection to the COVID-19 vaccine. They must also state whether they are opposed to all immunizations.

“We have the right to ask questions to get information on the basis of these requests. We can’t just take it on face value that there is an exemption. We are legally protected in asking for information to support these kind of requests,” said Bronson.

Denver Public Schools employees are also required to be fully vaccinated by the end of the month, under the current public health order. The form DPS is using for medical exemptions is very similar to the city’s form, but the religious exemption form asks for slightly less information.

There is no standardized, one-size-fits-all approach for COVID-19 vaccine exemption forms. Each employer must create their own.

Bronson says they have to make decisions on whether to grant exemptions based on the information provided in the forms.

“Are there folks who are going to try to game the system? I suspect so. That’s partially why it’s taking us a while to weed through these because we are trying to ensure the legitimacy of each and every one that we do approve,” said Bronson.

As of Sunday evening, the city had approved more than 465 exemption requests, denied 57 and still had 225 listed as “under review.”

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