As companies across the country including Facebook, Walmart, Google, Uber and Disney begin to mandate Covid-19 vaccinations as a condition of employment, workers who are fired for refusing to do so might not receive unemployment benefits, according to WUSA.
Vaccination rates are slowly increasing, but a Kaiser Family Foundation survey found there are still millions of Americans who would only get vaccinated against COVID-19 if it was required. Some companies, like Disney, Google and Walmart, have decided to lend a hand in pushing up vaccination rates by requiring certain employees to show proof of vaccination.
Some who refuse may be looking forward to the support of unemployment benefits while they look for a new job that doesn't require vaccines. But, for many of them, that might not be an option. -WUSA
The reason? In most states, if a person is fired with cause for violating company policy - such as mandatory vaccinations - they are not entitled to unemployment benefits and payments.
"Even something as simple as a dress code that says you have to wear a tie, and that's the company's policy, and you say, 'I don't believe in wearing a tie, so I'm not going to do it.' That's insubordination," says John T. Harrington, Principal at The Employment Law Group. "It's misconduct, and it would likely disqualify you from receiving unemployment benefits."
Harrington said there are only two exemptions to a vaccination requirement - medical or religious. In both cases, however, exemptions are determined on a case-by-case basis with employers. Just because one employee is granted a religious exemption, it doesn't mean that will extend to anyone else.
"We have received numerous inquiries from clients and potential clients about how courts are likely to view these situations," said Harrington. "we've been advising them that if you have one of these two valid reasons to believe that you should be exempt from a vaccination requirement, you should assert them. But otherwise, companies are entitled to require that employees be vaccinated."
Just lie and risk getting caught?
If a company establishes a clear vaccination policy, including repercussions for breaking said policy, it's no different than if they had broken any other company rule in the eyes of the law. The person filing for unemployment, of course, could choose not to be honest about their termination and hope that the company doesn't rat them out to state unemployment agencies.
"In every claim for unemployment benefits, the employer has an opportunity to present the reasons for the separation. And an employer can choose not to respond," according to attorney Diane Seltzer. "So if an employee is not truthful or not completely transparent when they apply for benefits, and the employer chooses not to contest it, the employee might get the benefits based on what they're representing."
In Washington, D.C., the Office of Unemployment Compensation lists being fired for "gross misconduct" as a reason someone would be disqualified from receiving benefits. Maryland state code also lists "gross misconduct" as a disqualifying factor.
"Gross Misconduct is actually defined, at least in part, as an act which deliberately or willfully violates an employer's rule," Seltzer explains. "You can be terminated if you violate a rule, especially if it's intentional or deliberate."
Willfully refusing a vaccination for COVID-19 after your employer mandates it would qualify as "gross misconduct," Seltzer said. -WUSA
Let the lawsuits begin...