State Police must reinstate 7 troopers who refused to get COVID-19 vaccine, arbitrator says

The arbitrator ruled that Massachusetts State Police didn't make "reasonable accommodations" for the troopers.

Massachusetts State Police has been ordered to offer seven suspended troopers their jobs back. They were suspended for not complying with Gov. Charlie Baker's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for state workers. David Ryan/The Boston Globe

An arbitrator ruled in favor of eight state troopers who were denied a religious exemption to former Gov. Charlie Baker’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for state workers Friday.

As part of the ruling, the arbitrator ordered Massachusetts State Police to offer seven of the troopers, who were suspended for not complying with the mandate, their jobs back, as well as back pay.

Ending a legal battle that began in 2021, the arbitrator decided that the police department failed to provide “reasonable accommodations” to the troopers and their “sincerely held” religious beliefs, the State Police Association of Massachusetts said in a press release Friday.


State Police previously acknowledged that the troopers qualified for a religious exemption. By still requiring them to get the vaccine, the arbitrator decided, the department violated the contractual rights of the troopers to anti-discrimination and affirmative action, the union said.

“[Baker’s vaccine mandate] was more than just an affront to the hard-working members of the Mass State Police, it was an attack on organized labor and the rights of our members,” the union, which represents the large majority of State Police employees, said in the release.

State Police suspended the troopers for not getting the vaccine in late 2021. It later moved to fire seven of the troopers, but a judge stopped them from being fired in March 2022, leaving them on unpaid suspension. The eighth trooper got vaccinated and returned to work.

The arbitrator’s ruling

In the ruling, arbitrator Bonnie McSpiritt wrote that State Police didn’t prove they couldn’t accommodate the troopers, The Boston Globe reported. The department, for instance, didn’t show why it couldn’t accommodate the troopers the same way it had accommodated a trooper that had qualified for a medical exemption.

Though the department must now offer the troopers their jobs back, it is unclear whether the troopers will actually rejoin the department.


The arbitrator also awarded the troopers full back pay and benefits going back to their initial suspension — minus any interim earnings and unemployment compensation, as well as their seniority rights, the union said.

“Governor Baker and his administration refused to listen or work with our Association, but today we can no longer be ignored,” the union wrote in the release.

“These members, whose religious convictions were trampled, and who were left without pay or benefits, now can choose to return to work and will be made whole through retroactive pay and earned seniority.”

State Police spokesperson David Procopio said Sunday in a statement that the department is “reviewing the ruling to determine its scope and the administrative and legal steps required for its implementation.”

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Baker did not respond to a request for comment on the ruling, the Globe reported.

What led up to the ruling

In August 2021, Gov. Baker ordered over 40,000 state employees to provide proof that they’d received the COVID-19 vaccine by mid-October of that year or risk being fired. The then-governor said the measure was meant to protect the public’s health.

Baker allowed workers to apply for a religious or health-based exemption. Still, the State Police union sued to have the mandate struck down, a request which a judge soon denied.


Over 150 of the union’s members applied for a religious exemption, but State Police denied them all. The department alleged it could not accommodate them without putting others’ safety, public trust, and department operations at risk.

State Police then tried to fire employees who still did not comply with the mandate, and the union sued.

Some State Police employees resigned over the mandate, but 13 others were “dishonorably discharged” for not complying. The union said Friday that it is still fighting the decision in court.

Gov. Maura Healey, who supported the mandate, ended it in May 2023.

In March, three unions lost a legal challenge to Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city employees, which the city never enforced.


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