Many workers in the United States have been fired from their jobs in recent months for not complying with employer COVID-19 vaccine requirements.1 2 3 Every state has its own eligibility guidelines for unemployment benefits. The benefits are generally available to those people who are unemployed due to circumstances beyond their control, such as a layoff.4
Employees, who are terminated “with cause” (terminated for misconduct by not complying with company policy), are generally ineligible for unemployment benefits.5 However, some states are now extending unemployment benefits to employees terminated “with cause” for refusing to get the COVID vaccine.6
At Least Five States Extending Unemployment Benefits to Employees Terminated Over Vaccine Mandates
Currently, at least five states have recently passed laws that extend unemployment benefits to employees, who have been fired from their jobs because of non-compliance to a COVID vaccine requirement. These states include Florida, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas and Tennessee.7
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds signed a bill guaranteeing unemployment benefits for those people fired for refusing a vaccine. She stated, “No Iowan should be forced to lose their job or livelihood over the COVID-19 vaccine.”8
Kansas Senate President Ty Masterson has spoken against the COVID vaccine mandates, calling the vaccine mandates ineffective and unfair. He said, “Kansans have made it clear that they choose freedom over Faucism.”9
There were concerns the extension of unemployment benefits for terminated employees would lead to increased unemployment claims that could drain the state’s unemployment insurance fund and weigh on businesses.
To have a hit on the fund, you have to have an employer that is denying the medical and individual rights of the employee and firing them for it. Simple solution: Don’t do that.10
Wyoming, Wisconsin and Missouri are also working towards extending unemployment benefits to people who have been terminated for not adhering to employer COVID vaccine requirements.11
Does Extending Unemployment Benefits Undermine Employer COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates?
Some have argued that extending unemployment benefits to employees terminated for not complying with vaccine requirements is “undermining vaccine mandates.” Alan Rupe, attorney and vice chair of the labor and employment practice at Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP, commented that:
It really doesn’t undermine the mandates; it just provides unemployment insurance for those people who have been fired for reason of the mandate.12
By law, employers are required to provide exemptions for individuals whose sincerely held religious beliefs or disability interferes with getting a vaccine. These extension of unemployment benefits law also protect employees who object to the vaccine for personal, philosophical or other reasons.
Patrick Peters, an employment attorney at Jackson Lewis PC, stated:
There are exceptions built into mandates on religious and disability grounds, but this would be for folks who say I’m not getting a vaccine because I don’t want to for some reason other than religion or a disability. All it’s going to do is, if somebody loses their job because they refuse to get vaccines, they will get benefits, whereas they might otherwise not.13
On Jan. 13, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration from enforcing a mandate requiring that workers at private businesses with 100 or more employees to get vaccinated or submit a negative COVID test weekly to enter the workplace. However, the Supreme Court majority voted to allow a federal vaccine mandate for health care workers employed in medical facilities that take Medicare or Medicaid payments.14
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Click here to view References:
1 Hsu A. Thousands of workers are opting to get fired, rather than take the vaccine. NPR Oct. 24, 2021.
2 Parpia R. Mayo Clinic Fires 700 Employees for Refusing to Get COVID-19 Vaccinations. The Vaccine Reaction Jan. 10, 2022.
3 Hardy A. More Employers Have Started Firing Workers for Refusing to Get Vaccinated. Money Jan. 10, 2022.
4 Gregg A. At least 5 GOP-led states offer jobless benefits to workers who refuse vaccines; others may follow. The Washington Post Dec. 27, 2021.
5 Rowan L. Won’t Get The Covid Vaccine? If You Lose Your Job, You May Not Get Unemployment Benefits. Forbes Jan. 3, 2022.
6 Gregg A. At least 5 GOP-led states offer jobless benefits to workers who refuse vaccines; others may follow. The Washington Post Dec. 27, 2021.
8 Cerullo M. States offer jobless aid to workers fired over employer vaccine requirement. CBS News Dec. 2, 2021.
9 Gregg A. At least 5 GOP-led states offer jobless benefits to workers who refuse vaccines; others may follow. The Washington Post Dec. 27, 2021.
12 Cerullo M. States offer jobless aid to workers fired over employer vaccine requirement. CBS News Dec. 2, 2021.
14 Breuninger K, Kimball S. Supreme Court blocks Biden Covid vaccine mandate for businesses, allows health-care worker rule. CNBC Jan. 13, 2022.