Hoffman Estates Park District mandates COVID-19 vaccination for full-time workers

The Hoffman Estates Park District this week became the first park district its officials know of in Illinois to impose a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for all its full-time employees.

Unvaccinated full-time employees have until Sept. 7 to get their first shot, two weeks after the board meeting at which the mandate was approved. Part-time workers are not included in the mandate for now.

Executive Director Craig Talsma said he feels fortunate to have had the full support of the board and to have received no pushback from the staff, though he knew he was risking a public battle if even one employee chose to resist.

"We're lucky," he said. "We have a very positive culture at this park district."

Talsma said another factor on his side was the knowledge that about 90% of the full-time staff had been vaccinated without a mandate.

In addition to the health protections the vaccine brings, Talsma said another bonus of having fully vaccinated employees is maintaining the continuity of the park district's operations. The full-time staff has been reduced by 15% during the pandemic, and an unvaccinated person these days could expect to miss five to 10 days of work for just a close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case, he said.

"We need all hands on deck as we make our way through this second surge," Talsma added.

Talsma said he wouldn't be surprised if the decision influences other park districts. He said he's sent copies of the mandate to 15 other park districts that have requested it, and four have privately told him they'd likely adopt something similar.

While adding part-time workers to the mandate is being considered, Talsma is stopping short of that for now. He said he has the benefit of knowing that most are already vaccinated, including all the district's preschool and day care staff.

But Talsma added that a part-time worker isn't as immediately irreplaceable as one of his full-time employees, and a vaccination mandate might make the park district less competitive in the already tight market for part-time help.

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