Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaking at a podium
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Stuck between a rock and a hard place. That’s where Florida long-term care providers are right now, as the state of Florida on Thursday passed a law aimed at stopping private employers from enacting COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Also on Thursday, as if to cover its bases, the state joined at least 22 other states in raising a legal challenge to a new federal rule requiring all healthcare workers at facilities that accept federal healthcare dollars to be vaccinated.

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on Thursday signed the legislation that prohibits private employers from mandating COVID-19 vaccination without offering broad exemptions. It also blocks government entities from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations of anyone, including employees. 

Under the private employer law, employees are allowed to choose between several exemptions including health or religious, pregnancy or past recovery from COVID-19. A federal rule for healthcare workers only allows for health or religious exemptions.

Florida employers who don’t comply with the law could face fines of up to $50,000 per employee violation (for those with more than 100 workers) and up to $10,000 per violation for smaller employers. 

Providers earlier in the week warned that these laws would make it impossible for providers to comply with both federal and state regulations.

In the second move Thursday, the state attorney general announced that Florida announced it’s filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration over its federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate for healthcare workers.

Florida joins a group of 10 states, and another group of 12 states, that have already brought legal challenges designed to stop the regulation. 

The latest moves by Florida officials have providers uncertain about what the future holds regarding the mandates. 

“We do not know yet what enforcement from the state or federal level will look like,” Nick Van Der Linden, LeadingAge Florida’s director of communications, told McKnight’s Long-Term Care News on Thursday. 

“Earlier [Thursday], the state of Florida joined several other states in filing a legal challenge to the [Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] rule in federal court,” he added. “We will continue to monitor this, and various other challenges as they are filed, however until the courts determine otherwise, our members are obligated to follow the CMS rule.”