One of the most controversial topics of the COVID-19 pandemic is vaccination mandates. Can employers mandate vaccinations for their employees? Can employees seek legal representation for wrongful dismissal if they’re not vaccinated? This post will examine what the law says on the issue and how an employment law attorney can help.
What is wrongful termination?
In most jobs, your employment is considered “at will.” At will means you have your job at the will of your employer. It means you can be fired at any time and for any reason. However, the grounds for being fired have to be legal. They can’t legally fire you on the basis of discrimination. They can’t fire you for reporting illegal activity, refusing to break the law, or attending jury duty. If you’ve been fired from your job illegally, you can seek legal assistance for employees and file a suit.
Wrongful termination or wrongful dismissal occurs when an employee is fired due to unlawful action by the employer. This action could include an employer violating an employment contract or public law when terminating the employee.
The question is, is it illegal to fire someone if they refuse a vaccination? The answer is that it depends. Each state has different regulations for how they enforce vaccination mandates. Each state is different in what they consider illegal regarding vaccination mandates. These laws are also shifting and changing every day as the pandemic progresses. An employment law attorney is the best person to consult for the most up-to-date information.
The incredibly gray area of COVID-19 vaccine refusal
Many employers require workers to show proof of vaccination or risk losing their jobs. In April 2021, an extensive health-care system, Houston Methodist, required employees to show proof of exemption. Of the 26,000 employees, 153 were fired for not following the vaccine mandate. One hundred seventeen of these employees worked with an employment law attorney and sued the hospital.
A judge dismissed The Houston Methodist case. He said, “Texas law only protects employees from being terminated for refusing to commit an act carrying criminal penalties to the worker. Receiving a COVID-19 vaccination is not an illegal act, and it carries no criminal penalties.”
Other large companies have brought in vaccine mandates for their workforce. United Airlines mandated vaccines for their 67,000 employees with 96% compliance. Out of these large numbers, United fired two hundred workers for not providing proof of vaccination. Six of these employees sued the airline for wrongful termination.
At first, a judge in Texas upheld the mandate. Still, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of appeals ruled the judge needed to reconsider it. United has now dropped the mandate because of a drop in COVID-19 cases.
Complicating things is the fact that there’s no clear legal answer for everyone. As we said before, vaccine mandates vary from state to state. As of late 2021, twenty-three states had passed legislation mandating COVID-19 vaccinations.
At the same time, six states banned vaccine mandates. They made it illegal for employers to require vaccinations for their employees. Other states banned vaccine mandates but made an exemption for health-care workers. In short, it’s very complicated.
Vaccine mandate exemptions
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is a federal watchdog agency that enforces anti-discrimination laws. They protect people with disabilities through employment law. They state, “Employers have the right to require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as long as they provide reasonable accommodations for those with disabilities, legitimate medical conditions, or sincerely held religious beliefs against vaccinations.”
Here are the exemptions protected by law.
Some people may decline a vaccination due to a sincerely held religious belief. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes discrimination based on religious beliefs illegal. It states: “Employees have the right to request an accommodation from an employment requirement that conflicts with their sincerely held religious beliefs, practices, or observances. This is called a religious exemption.”
Some people may have health conditions that put them at risk of getting the vaccine. These conditions could include:
- a disability;
- allergy to a vaccine component or a reaction to a previous vaccination;
- a medical condition. (It’s important to note that pregnancy or trying to get pregnant is not a health condition preventing a person from getting a vaccine.)
When can employment lawyers get involved?
Any employee illegally fired from their job has the right to seek damages. Depending on the laws in your state, termination for refusing a COVID-19 vaccine could be considered illegal. In this case, you should talk to an experienced employment law attorney right away.
Even if you’re unsure of your status, employment laws change daily. Suppose you have questions about how the law can apply to you or are facing a wrongful dismissal due to refusing a COVID-19 vaccination at work. In that case, discussing the matter with an employment law attorney can be helpful. Depending on your situation, you may even qualify for legal aid for employment disputes.
Contact LegalASAP today to find legal assistance for employees. Our network of trustworthy and experienced attorneys is available to help. Take our free evaluation today to see if you qualify and get the legal representation you deserve.