Can You Get Unemployment If You’re Fired For Not Getting A COVID Vaccine?
As a general rule, when you are fired or laid off, you can collect unemployment benefits. However, one (exception) to collecting benefits is that you can’t have voluntarily resigned or been fired for cause. That is, the end of your employment can’t be because of something you did or didn’t do voluntarily (like just decide you didn’t want to work at your job anymore), and you can’t be fired “for cause,” and get unemployment.
Is Refusing to Get Vaccinated a “For Cause” Termination?
A legal question is now starting to become more prevalent—if you refuse to get a COVID vaccine that your employer requires, and you are fired because of that, do you get unemployment benefits? In other words, is your termination considered to be because of something you voluntarily chose not to do (get a vaccine), as if it is your fault, or is it something out of your control, which would allow you to get unemployment benefits?
This is a new legal area, and there has been no uniform consensus on this question yet, but you can bet it will be the subject of a lot of employment litigation going forward in the future. Until more courts handle and determine this legal issue, it is likely that courts will go on a case-by-case basis, looking at the unique individual circumstances of each case.
What is Reasonable?
In some cases, if you refuse to follow a work policy that is seen as unreasonable, and you are fired because of that, you can still get unemployment benefits. The question then becomes whether a policy that requires COVID vaccines at work is “reasonable.” Given the groundswell in favor of vaccines nationally, it is likely that a mandatory COVID vaccine policy at work would be considered reasonable by a court.
Practicality also comes in. If the government requires that employers fire or terminate employees who don’t get the COVID vaccine it wouldn’t make sense to also make them pay for those employees’ unemployment benefits.
Some states are trying to combat this problem by making it illegal to discriminate against people for getting or not getting the COVID vaccine, but not many laws have yet passed doing this.
Making matters more complex are those who refuse to get vaccinated for religious or health reasons—for example, some kind of health condition that makes getting the vaccine itself dangerous. In those cases, it may be less likely that the employee purposely refused to follow company vaccine guidelines, and thus more likely that unemployment can be obtained by the employee.
But even here, if the employee can’t accommodate you—for example, if you are in a job that absolutely requires vaccinations, like working with the elderly or a sick population—and the employer can show this, you could be denied unemployment, even if your refusal to get vaccinated was based on religion or health reasons.
Call the West Palm Beach employment law attorneys at Pike & Lustig today to make sure your business is up to speed on the latest employment and labor law developments.