ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — More and more employers are requiring workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but what if you don’t want it?
Can you get fired? Can you lose unemployment benefits?
The answer in most circumstances is: yes.
“Employers have quite a lot of latitude in mandating vaccines. They have the legal right to mandate that employees be vaccinated to work subject to a couple of exemptions,” explained James Grasso, a Partner at Phillips Lytle who works in Labor and Employment Law.
Employer vaccine mandates are similar to other workplace-safety guidelines and a business could require you to get vaccinated as part of its health and safety protocols.
If you refuse to get a vaccine and your employer is mandating it, you could be fired and lose unemployment benefits.
“If an employer mandates vaccines, and an employee refuses out of just personal choice, that likely would be seen as either insubordination or misconduct for failing to comply with a reasonable directive from your employer,” Grasso said.
More and more companies nationwide are requiring employees who work in-person to be vaccinated. Google, Netflix, Door Dash, and many airlines are just a few.
But other than hospitals, that’s not necessarily the case locally.
“In the Rochester area, Western New York, employers are still holding off on mandating vaccines because they’re still in a dilemma of having a significant number of employees who don’t want to be vaccinated for whatever reason, and concern that if they mandate vaccines that they’re going to lose people, and then, you know, with a labor shortage that already exists, they’ll just be in a worse position,” Grasso said.
But that could change, especially with the FDA giving its full stamp of approval of the Pfizer vaccine this week.
“Legally, it didn’t change anything. Employers already had the right to mandate vaccines, but with final approval now, I think employers are going to find that they have more cover, you know, and more justification for mandating the vaccine,” Grasso said.
There are a few exceptions to these vaccine mandates.
“If an employee has a medical condition that might prevent them from getting vaccinated, or put them at risk somehow, or if they have a religious objection…then the employer would have to consider whether or not they could accommodate the employee and allow them to work without being vaccinated,” Grasso said.
But Grasso said these aren’t automatic exemptions and the employer can still decide a worker does not meet the account that they requested.
For employees who work in a unionized setting, Grasso says they have what they call a “mandatory subject of bargaining.” This means the employer has to sit down and bargain with the union before implement a vaccine mandate.