Cruise Ship Company Seeks Compromise in Proof-of-Vaccination Standoff

Allen Smith, J.D. By Allen Smith, J.D. May 14, 2021
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Cruise ship in Florida

In some states, company leaders are having to balance their obligation to keep customers and workers safe with state laws that relax or forbid COVID-19 mitigation efforts. Things may be coming to a head soon in Florida.

On May 6, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings' CEO Frank Del Rio said Florida's prohibition on asking people to show proof of vaccination could force the company, which plans to require all guests and crew members to be vaccinated, to keep its ships out of the state's ports, The New York Times reported. (Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings operates Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.)

Norwegian Cruise Line President and CEO Harry Sommer expressed optimism on May 12 that Florida and his company could reach a compromise on the state's ban.

But on May 13, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Norwegian was "not one of the big" cruise line companies and that if it left the state, then "that niche will get filled in Florida," according to television station WESH 2 in Orlando.

We've gathered articles on the news from SHRM Online and other reliable media outlets.

Florida's Ban

DeSantis signed a bill into law on May 3 that barred businesses, schools and government entities across Florida from asking anyone to provide proof of a COVID-19 vaccination. "I think folks that are saying that they need to be policing people at this point—if you're saying that, you really are saying you don't believe in the vaccines, you don't believe in the data, you don't believe in the science. … We are no longer in the state of emergency," he said. Under the new law, businesses, schools and governments may not require proof of vaccinations and can be fined up to $5,000 per incident for doing so. But these entities can institute screening protocols if they are "consistent with authoritative or controlling government-issued guidance to protect public health." Licensed health care providers are exempted from the vaccine documentation provision.

(Miami Herald)

Speculation over Possibility of Skipping Florida Ports

Del Rio said at a quarterly earnings call that if Norwegian had to skip Florida ports, it could operate out of other states or the Caribbean. "We certainly hope it doesn't come to that," he said. "Everyone wants to operate out of Florida. It's a very lucrative market." The latest guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lets cruise ships conduct simulated voyages with volunteer passengers to see how cruise lines can safely resume operations with measures such as testing and potential quarantines. The test runs must be completed before the CDC can clear cruise lines to sail with passengers this summer. "While cruising will always pose some risk of COVID-19 transmission, CDC is committed to ensuring that cruise ship passenger operations are conducted in a way that protects crew members, passengers and port personnel," the CDC stated May 5. 

(The New York Times)

DeSantis Stands by the State's Policy

"Our state policy is our state policy," DeSantis said May 13. "Cruise lines have been operating in other parts of the world where there's no access to vaccine[s]," he said. "These cruise lines are ready to go: Royal Caribbean, Carnival." DeSantis said the CDC "mothballed the [cruise line] industry for over a year." The governor and the state have sued the CDC and the federal government over the pause on cruising, demanding that cruises be allowed to resume from the U.S. immediately. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki declined to comment directly on the lawsuit when it was announced in April, reiterating only that "the CDC guidance is based on data and health and medical guidelines."

(WESH 2 in Orlando) and (The Washington Post)

Norwegian Cruise Line President and CEO Signals Truce

Sommer appeared on "Good Morning America" on May 12 and sounded optimistic that a compromise could be reached. "At the end of the day, we have the same goal in mind: to restart cruising safely for our guests in an excellent way with a fantastic product," he said. "And I think when people are aligned on the same goal, they find a way to move forward." Norwegian Cruise Lines is the third-largest cruise line company in the world.

(ABC News) and (CBS 4 in Miami)

Consideration of Federal, State and Local Mandates

Although many businesses are not mandating vaccination, employers allowing business travel should have a plan in case vaccination is required by travel vendors or business partners. What if a salesperson needs to travel and certain airlines and hotels are requiring customers to show proof of vaccination? What if event venues are requiring all contractors to be vaccinated? Employers will have to consider how industry rules and federal, state and local mandates impact business travel for vaccinated and nonvaccinated employees, said Stephanie Rawitt, an attorney with Clark Hill in Philadelphia.

(SHRM Online)

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