By Nicholas Johnson

Following the lead of the state, the county and the city of Seattle, the city of Burien will require all 107 of its employees be vaccinated against COVID-19, save for those who request and are granted an exemption for medical or religious reasons.

In unanimously voting to adopt the mandate during its Monday evening (Sept. 20) meeting, the Burien City Council appears to have become the first in south King County – and possibly the second city in the state after Seattle – to make vaccination a condition of employment, with any employee’s failure to comply by Nov. 1 potentially resulting in their termination.

“I just think this is pretty non-controversial,” councilor Kevin Schilling said after making a motion to approve the mandate, which was seconded by councilor Sofia Aragon.

“I am a believer and truster in science; I think the majority of people are,” Schilling added. “Go get vaccinated.”

At this point, the city does not have a definitive sense of how many of its employees remain unvaccinated or how many might request an exemption, said spokesperson Emily Inlow-Hood, adding that “we will know more after Nov. 1.”

The mandate prohibits unvaccinated city employees from working at a city facility, on city property or on the city’s behalf, according to the resolution adopted Monday. It also prohibits any employee who has been granted an exemption from refusing to submit to frequent testing or from refusing to abide by masking requirements.

“This is probably one of the most discussed, debated, operationally challenged resolutions for us over the last month,” City Manager Brian Wilson said.

“We are working to address the issue of whether someone who has an exception can actually meet the essential functions of their position,” Wilson added, noting that the city continues to work through labor-relations issues. “We have our Teamsters partners where they have expressed concern regarding the mandatory nature of the actions we are proposing here today.”

The mandate does not apply to city volunteers, independent contractors, consultants, grant recipients or city council members, however all seven current council members have voluntarily provided proof of vaccination, Wilson said.

Councilor Nancy Tosta asked why staff decided that the mandate would not apply to council members.

“It’s not an obligation that we could impose,” said City Attorney Garmon Newsom, “and it’s not one, frankly, that we could meaningfully enforce … because you don’t actually fall under the authority of the city manager.”

Acceptable forms of proof include a vaccination record card or photo of a card, an electronic health record or documentation from a health-care provider, a copy of a state immunization information system record, or a sworn personal attestation until any of the former are produced “within a reasonable period.”

Councilor Krystal Marx asked how staff would determine what a reasonable period of time is given the risk that a potentially unvaccinated employee poses to their co-workers.

During development of the mandate, some employees felt such a grace period was necessary, Newsom said, explaining that if an employee were to lose their vaccination record card, it could take an unpredictable amount of time to get it replaced or instead retrieve an electronic record.

“I don’t know what a reasonable period is,” Newsom said. “We’re going to view a reasonable period as something that we determine on a case-by-case basis. This was a compromise that we came up with in order to allay certain fears and still try to require people to be accountable.”

An employee’s failure to comply with the city’s vaccination mandate, as well as requirements for social-distancing and mask-wearing, will result in “discipline up to and including termination,” according to the resolution.

If a city manager-organized reviewing body finds that an employee lied about their vaccination status, putting their fellow employees at risk, that employee will be terminated. Wilson said that reviewing body would be comprised of himself, Newsom, the city’s administrative services director and the employee’s supervising director.

“Between the four of us, we would make a decision regarding the next step with that particular employee,” Wilson told the council.


Nicholas Johnson (he/him) is an award-winning writer, editor and photographer who grew up in Boulevard Park, graduated from Highline High School and studied journalism at Western Washington University. Send news tips, story ideas and positive vibes to