JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — The region’s largest hospital system is now requiring employees to wear color-coded badges indicating whether they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Ballad Health announced the policy change on July 6, the Johnson City-based health care system confirmed to News Channel 11 on Tuesday.

It’s called the “badge buddies” program. Employees who’ve been vaccinated will have the color blue on their badges. Unvaccinated employees will have the color orange on their badges. 

Ballad informed employees last week that failing to comply will have consequences.  

“This color-coded badge system has been added to the dress-code policy and failure to comply, or any attempt to falsify the badge will result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination,” employees were told.

A Ballad spokesperson said the system will allow employees “a quick, direct method” of identifying which co-workers have been vaccinated and which infection prevention methods need to be implemented.

“This is particularly crucial as many updated COVID-19 guidelines no longer require masks for certain meeting and social situations, provided all attendees are vaccinated. For maskless gatherings to be safe, our team members need to be certain everyone in attendance is fully protected from COVID-19,” said Ashlea Ramey, Ballad Health Chief Communications Specialist. “By protecting each other, we’re also protecting our community members and, importantly, our Ballad Health patients and visitors, from this virus.”

Ballad says its “badge buddies” system comes after OSHA issued what’s called an emergency temporary standard on June 21 aimed at protecting healthcare workers from exposure to COVID-19.  

READ: Occupational Exposure to COVID-19; Emergency Temporary Standard on 6.21.2021

The standard says, “During the period of the emergency standard, covered healthcare employers must develop and implement a COVID-19 plan to identify and control COVID-19 hazards in the workplace.”

The standard does not specifically recommend a system for publicly identifying which employees have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

A spokesman says TOSHA, the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is in the process of developing a rule that applies specifically to employers in Tennessee.

For now, Tennessee OSHA is not recommending or prohibiting employers from requiring employees to disclose vaccination status, according to Chris Cannon, director of communications for the Tennessee Department of Workforce and Labor Development.

“Tennessee OSHA has no rule or standard that requires or prohibits an employer in the healthcare industry from obtaining information about the vaccination status of employees,” Cannon said.  

“TOSHA cannot comment with expertise on the standard issued and enforced by Federal OSHA,” Cannon said. 

Ballad is the latest large employer in the Tri-Cities region to require employees to indicate vaccination status. Last May, K-VA-T Food Stores announced vaccinated employees at its Food City grocery stores and pharmacies would have a vaccination logo placed on employee name badges.