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Can you get unemployment benefits if you are fired for refusing the covid-19 vaccine?

Employees who refuse to get the covid-19 vaccine when their company mandates such measures may not be eligible for unemployment compensation.

Employees who refuse to get the covid-19 vaccine when their company mandates such measures may not be eligible for unemployment compensation.

A number of companies have begun mandating that their employees get a covid-19 jab including Delta Airlines, Google, Tyson Foods and Walmart, among others. Employees that refuse to comply with the mandate could risk losing their job and will unlikely be able to receive unemployment compensation, despite posts to the contrary on Facebook.

Workers can claim unemployment insurance payments if they lose their job through no fault of their own. But if an employee quits or their employer has cause for termination, they are usually barred from receiving unemployment benefits. However, there is no “one size fits all” from state to state and “every state defines what ‘cause’ is a little bit differently," Jennifer Shinall, a professor of law at Vanderbilt University, told USA Today.

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Exemptions to getting vaccinated

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance with regards to mandates and exemptions for the influenza vaccination may be applicable to the covid-19 vaccine according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There are two exemptions that employees can communicate to their employer, medical and religious.

An employee can claim a medical exemption if they would be at risk of an adverse reaction due to a medical condition or allergic reaction to one of the vaccine components. A religious exemption can be claimed if an employee holds a sincere religious belief, practice, or observance which prevents them from getting vaccinated.

Once they receive notice from an employee claiming a religious exemption an employer must provide a reasonable accommodation unless it would pose an undue hardship under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, if the employer would incur significant difficulty or expense in accommodating the employee’s exemption, they would be within their right to terminate the employee. Though that wouldn’t mean that an employee can’t apply for unemployment benefits, but they will most likely have an uphill battle to receive those payments, with legal precedent against them.

Courts uphold mandates while legislatures press for worker protections for unvaccinated

As the number of companies, institutions, states and the federal government mandate covid-19 vaccination for students and employees the courts are upholding mandates against lawsuits challenging them. A federal district court in Texas dismissed a lawsuit against Houston Methodist Hospital’s vaccine mandate last month. The requirement for staff and students to be vaccinated by Indiana University was allowed to remain when the US Supreme Court declined an emergency request to block that school’s mandate.

However, lawmakers in some states are looking at legislation to protect workers’ right to receive unemployment benefits for those who refuse to get vaccinated. USA Today reports that there is a pending bill in Tennessee that would prohibit denying unemployment compensation to even those who quit their job because of a vaccine requirement.

Carena Lemons, a Durham attorney, told ABC11 in Raleigh, North Carolina that if you don’t comply with your company’s mandate and are fired that you most likely won’t be eligible for benefits, but that you can appeal that decision. "That's when you can bring out all the facts, that's when you can show that documentation. Did you violate company policy by not getting vaccinated? Are there any breach of contract issues there?” Lemons said. Adding “What were the rules when you first accepted employment with that company?"

Again, each state has different rules and each unemployment claim is different. However, if an employee doesn’t have a valid reason for not getting vaccinated, they are unlikely to be eligible for unemployment compensation.