In recent COVID-19 news, a handful of workers across the U.S. have been denied unemployment benefits after refusing to comply with vaccine mandates. Although these laws currently vary by state, they could soon have a countrywide impact if and when President Biden’s COVID vaccine mandate goes into effect. If approved, employers with over 100 staff will be required to set up regular COVID testing or terminate workers who refuse the vaccine.
Over the past couple of weeks, questions have arisen related to whether workers qualify for unemployment benefits after being fired for refusing vaccine mandates. In the beginning of October, over 100 healthcare employees in Colorado were let go due to their vaccine contention. It’s a small percentage of the state’s 27,000 staff members, though not insignificant in principle. Other states, such as Texas, have alternative responses to Biden’s proposal.
Airline giants Southwest and American, for example, are choosing to abide by federal guidelines despite Texas Governor Greg Abbot attempting to ban the vaccine mandates altogether. While some states are implementing their own vaccine regulations, others maintain that it should always be a voluntary decision.
The tricky part is deciding whether terminated staff who refused the vaccine should be eligible for unemployment benefits through the UI program. To qualify, workers must be unemployed through no fault of their own – voluntary quits and termination are not qualifying scenarios for UI benefits.
Since there’s no legislation meant for this situation, workers and employers alike are unclear on whether vaccine refusals signal non-compliance with company protocols, or if vaccine mandates are simply unreasonable. All should be made clear once the final review of Biden’s proposal reaches a conclusion.
In select states across the country, confusion is spreading concerning employment benefits after quitting or being terminated for vaccine refusal. Here are a few other stories contributing to the discussion as of late:
- Nearly 2,000 Washington State employees either quit or were terminated due to statewide COVID vaccine mandates. Additionally, the state’s Department of Corrections has lost 350 workers across prisons, headquarters, and satellite offices.
- Republican Representative Rusty Grills out of Nashville, TN is proposing a bill which will allow workers access to unemployment benefits despite quitting due to vaccine mandates. Democrats reject the idea of qualifying for benefits due to a personal decision, which will serve as an additional expense for SMBs already greatly affected by the pandemic’s economic destruction.
- The city of Los Angeles gave an ultimatum to LA school district staff members: vaccination or termination. Over 95% of LA school employees have had at least one dose or a valid exemption, though a handful of teachers who refused the vaccine are unlikely to receive any subsequent UI benefits.
Experienced Employment Law Attorney, Mediator, Arbitrator, Investigator, Legal and Media Commentator
Twice-named a U.S. News Best Lawyer in America for employment and labor law, Angela Reddock-Wright is an employment and labor law attorney, mediator, arbitrator, and certified workplace and Title IX investigator (AWI-CH) in Los Angeles, CA. Known as the “Workplace Guru,” Angela is an influencer and leading authority on employment, workplace/HR, Title IX, hazing, and bullying issues. Furthermore, she’s been named a “Top California Employment Lawyer” by the Daily Journal and one of Los Angeles’ “Most Influential Minority and Women Attorneys” by the Los Angeles Business Journal.
Angela is a regular legal and media commentator and analyst and has appeared on such media outlets as Good Morning America, Entertainment Tonight, Law and Crime with Brian Ross, Court TV, CNN, NewsNation, ABC News, CBS News, Fox 11 News, KTLA-5, the Black News Channel, Fox Soul – The Black Report, NPR, KPCC, Airtalk-89.3, KJLH Front Page with Dominique DiPrima, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the LA Times, Forbes.com, Yahoo! Entertainment, People Magazine, Essence Magazine, the Los Angeles Sentinel, LA Focus, Daily Journal, Our Weekly and the Wave Newspapers.
Angela is a member of the panel of distinguished mediators and arbitrators with Judicate West, a California dispute resolution company. She also owns her own dispute resolution law firm, the Reddock Law Group of Los Angeles, specializing in the mediation, arbitration, and investigation of employment discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and other workplace claims, along with Title IX, sexual harassment, assault, and misconduct conduct cases, along with hazing and bullying cases in K-12 schools, colleges and universities, fraternities and sororities; fire, police and other public safety agencies and departments; and other private and public sector workplaces.
Reddock-Wright has also launched her own radio show, Legal Lens with Angela Reddock-Wright, airing on Tavis Smiley’s new KBLA Talk 1580 radio station on Saturdays at 11:00 a.m. PT with replays on subsequent Sundays. Listeners may tune-in by downloading the APP @kbla1580 and call the PowerLines at 1-800-920-1580.
For more information regarding resources for employers, businesses, and employees during this time, connect with her on LinkedIn for new updates, or contact her here. You may also follow her on Instagram.
This communication is not legal advice. It is educational only. For legal advice, consult with an experienced employment law attorney in your state or city.