County board discusses rollout of OSHA COVID-19 mandates

Published 12:44 pm Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Freeborn County administration is preparing for the rollout of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration COVID-19 mandates for large employers that require vaccinations or testing and masking in lieu of vaccinations for all employees. 

Freeborn County Human Resources Director Candace Pesch said Tuesday during the Board of Commissioners meeting that Minnesota OSHA adopted the federal emergency temporary standard on Monday, which had been previously published by federal OSHA on Nov. 5. The standard is in place for businesses with 100 or more workers. 

Pesch said starting Monday OSHA can begin issuing citations for noncompliance with the masking requirements for unvaccinated workers, though the U.S. Department of Labor has indicated it will not issue citations for the testing requirements until Feb. 9 as long as businesses are making good-faith efforts to implement the rules. 

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The start of citations next week come as the issue is slated to be heard before the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday after multiple legal challenges had been filed in various U.S. appeals courts. 

The hearing is unlikely to put the mandates on hold, unless the court moves extremely fast and reverses the earlier ruling. 

Pesch said the standard requires businesses to have a record of vaccination for their employees. She noted she has vaccination records for between 80 and 85% of the county employees. She declined to comment on the number of employees who are unvaccinated as she does not yet have all of the records logged. 

She said the county has done its best to accommodate everyone’s beliefs into its policy on the issue, but the big concern is expected to come when an unvaccinated employee refuses to test and wear a mask. She said she would need the help of the commissioners in those instances. 

Pesch and other county leaders await the Supreme Court ruling but have a policy in place pending the decision. If the court rules against the requirements, the policy would not be used. 

Regarding masking, Pesch said the rules require unvaccinated employees to be masked when indoors or in close proximity to another person when in a county vehicle or outdoors. The only time a mask could be taken off is if a person has their own office and the door closed. 

Regarding testing, she said the county’s plan is to set up testing stations in the area of the former License Center and utilize the help of the county’s Public Health Department in setting up tests every five minutes. Employees would come in for testing once they arrive for work and would still be paid during the time they are testing. 

Testing supplies are a big unknown, Pesch said, as it would be expensive to go through a vendor, and many entities will be vying for supplies otherwise. 

Commissioner Ted Herman asked how testing would work for employees who work outside of traditional business hours, such as dispatchers or employees of the Sheriff’s Office, and Pesch said there is a possibility a nurse in the jail could help with the testing of these individuals. 

Commissioner Brad Edwin pointed out that the mandate did not come from the Legislature but instead came from an agency. 

“They don’t realize the burden it puts on counties, municipalities and others,” Edwin said. 

He said the requirement for unvaccinated individuals to be tested and masked does nothing except try “to humiliate someone into being vaccinated.” 

Pesch said the county would not tolerate any sort of negative behavior toward anyone who chooses not to be vaccinated, and Commissioner John Forman said it works the other direction, too, and noted that people who aren’t vaccinated shouldn’t be harassing people who are. 

“We need to respect each other as human beings, period,” Herman said. 

County Administrator Tom Jensen said the county has been dumped into the middle of a largely divisive issue, and he doesn’t like it anymore than anyone else. He wanted people on both sides of the issue to know: “We’re trying to walk a very, very thin line, and we’re trying to do the best we can.” 

Pesch said she planned to host employee meetings on Wednesday to update employees on the requirements and answer questions. 

Jensen said on Wednesday the county also plans to meet with some members of city administration, as it is likely the two entities will have to rely on each other to meet the requirements. 

In other action, the county board:

  • Elected 4th District Commissioner Chris Shoff as chairman for a third term and 5th District Commissioner Ted Herman as vice chairman. 
  • Approved signatories and banks the county would do business with in 2022.

A new signatory was added for Noel Ahnemann, deputy auditor-treasurer, who has started handling some payroll duties.

  • Approved the appropriation of funds from the general revenue fund to the change funds in various departments. 
  • Established an absentee ballot board, UOCAVA ballot board and mail ballot board. 
  • Approved the transfer of cash balance from the Armor Radio Bond Fund to the county general fund. 
  • Set the crop damage rate for 2022 for drainage ditches. 

For standing crop, the rate approved for corn is $958 per acre and for beans is $637 per acre.

For not planted acres, the rate is $440 per acre. 

  • Approved an agreement with Rinke Noonan Attorneys at Law to provide legal services for the county’s drainage authority. The counsel will be provided for $200 a month plus hourly services.
  • Accepted the resignation of Sheriff’s Office Patrol Deputy Glen Strom, who has been in his position since 2008. The board voted to fill the position. 
  • Approved a full-time office support specialist position in the county attorney’s office. 
  • Approved one-year contracts with David Claussen and Cody Fox for ditch inspector services.
  • Appointed the Albert Lea Tribune as the official Freeborn County newspaper for 2022. 
  • Set board meetings for 2022 for the first and third Tuesday of the month at 8:30 a.m.


— The Associated Press contributed to this report.