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.
Individuals across the United States are working to navigate this newest phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, in which vaccines are readily available but the rapidly spreading Delta variant is ravaging communities.
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.
If your employer requires proof of a COVID vaccine, and you refuse and are fired, can you be denied unemployment benefits?
Yes. In most areas of the United States, if you are fired for breaking a company policy, you are not eligible for unemployment benefits and payments.
What We Found
Unemployment payments are afforded to Americans who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. When a business closes or issues mass layoffs, the people who are let go are often eligible for weekly benefits.
However, someone fired for breaking a company policy, big or small, can be denied benefits, employment attorney John T. Harrington explains.
“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,” Harrington said. “It’s misconduct, and it would likely disqualify you from receiving unemployment benefits.”
If a company’s vaccination policy, and the repercussions for breaking that policy, are made clear to employees, the reason for disqualification is the same as if they had broken any other company rule. This is also dependent on whether the person filing for unemployment is honest about their termination and whether the company cares enough to verify it.
“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,” attorney Diane Seltzer said. “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.”
Harrington said there are really only two ways to avoid a vaccination requirement: a medical or religious exemption. In both cases, he said exemptions are determined with employers on a case-by-case basis. One employee with a religious exemption in a company does not mean the rules change for anyone else.
“We have received numerous inquiries from clients and potential clients about how courts are likely to view these situations,” Harrington says, “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.”