PRINCEVILLE — In March, Michele Rundgren, owner of Tiki Iniki, made the decision to mandate all employees have a COVID-19 vaccine, including servers, bartenders and cooks.
“I’m of a generation where we, through vaccinations, wiped out entire horrible diseases,” Rundgren said Monday. “So it personally was something that felt patriotic to save the world. We all need to do our little part by getting that little vaccine.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not mandate vaccination under the Emergency Use Authorization of any COVID-19 vaccine currently being distributed, nor does the state, which deferred guidance federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission which oversees federal anti-discrimination employment laws.
The EEOC, in a December 2020 guidance, dictates that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to employees who may have an ADA disability that prevents them from taking the vaccine.
About 30% of the staff, many long-time employees, have opted to not receive the vaccine, and ultimately will not be asked back when the Princeville bar and restaurant reopens on April 20.
While Rundgren understands there are objections, “it just isn’t worth risking my customers’ lives” or “risking my whole business.”
“I’m not trying to force a belief,” Rundgren said. “But I am going to stick by my guns and support that they have their right to choose. I am disappointed in some of them that they don’t feel the way I do, but you know that’s why it’s a free country, everybody gets to think and feel the way they do.”
One bartender, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, said that’s not been the case. The employee requested a religious exemption from taking the vaccine as well as noted an immune deficiency and was told they would be missed by Rundgren, according to an email reviewed by The Garden Island.
While not unwilling to receive a vaccine, the two-year employee said they felt unsafe without more long-term research, especially when it came to fertility.
“I would rather risk COVID than have unknown effects,” one employee said.
In Lihu‘e, Verde is offering active employees an incentive of a one-time payment equivalent to two hours of pay after receiving a completed vaccination for taking the time to get vaccinated, owner Maris Manzano said in an email.
“Employees who voluntarily receive the COVID-19 vaccine are still required to wear a mask at work, practice social distancing and proper hand-washing as they can still act as a carrier of the virus and may inadvertently infect others, Manzano said. “We highly value the health and safety of our staff, family and customers.”
Rundgren said she took a class with the National Restaurant Association that discussed how employers can enforce a mandate and not step on employee rights.
“As long as we don’t ask for any medical records — we can ask for record of vaccine — but if someone wants to opt-out, I would still they rather didn’t work here … The world’s population comes to our beautiful island and I don’t want to see anybody harmed.”
Another employee who is citing a religious exemption said they felt “uncomfortable” with receiving a vaccine.
“It’s my body,” they said.
Both Tiki Iniki employees said they were worried about finding new employment.
“We have a landslide on one side and nothing open on the other side of the North Shore,” one said.
In addition to mandating vaccines, the restaurant has limited restaurant capacity to half, put up plexiglass around the bar and has set up disinfectant stations. Staff are also offered personal protective equipment and guests are asked to fill out contact-tracing forms.
Rundgren got emotional Monday discussing the topic of her employees’ safety.
“I’m grateful for all my employees that I’ve had before,” Rundgren said. “I hope that they stay safe.”