With the vaccination deadline for thousands of workers in Washington state on Monday, officials have warned that those who are fired or laid off because of Governor Jay Inslee’s authority over state officials, healthcare workers, and others should not be eligible for benefits. unemployment.
The warning also applies to a separate federal vaccination mandate targeting private employers with 100 or more employees, officials from the state’s Employment Safety Department said.
But these messages contain many warnings and gray areas, experts say. For example, employees who are laid off after receiving a vaccine exemption may be eligible for unemployment benefits.
“We’re in new territory,” said Timothy Emery, managing partner of Emery Reddy, a Seattle-based labor law firm. “This is unverified.”
Legal experts say that given the novelty of vaccine requirements, the complexity of labor laws and the wide government leeway in deciding eligibility, mandated workers are uncertain about the outcome.
Uncertainty is exacerbated by the fact that some work groups have entered into or are negotiating agreements with employers that may help noncompliant workers avoid “separation,” which would negatively impact their eligibility for benefits.
Also untested is the ESD’s ability to promptly deal with the large number of contested claims for unemployment benefits that may be mandate-related – although, according to spokesman Nick Demeris, the agency has only handled a few mandate-related unemployment claims so far.
Uncertainty about the benefits looms as some workers oppose regulations and employers fear ultimatums could exacerbate an already painful labor shortage.
On Friday, several hundred people, mostly Boeing employees, protested the company’s new vaccination mandate, with some saying they would leave rather than succumb to the injection.
Federal and state laws give employers considerable leeway in setting workplace requirements. This credibility has been bolstered by a recent U.S. Department of Justice ruling that allows employers to require FDA-approved vaccines for emergency use, as is the case with COVID-19 vaccines.
Unemployment benefits are generally easier to approve for laid-off workers than for those who voluntarily quit or were fired for good reason.
But federal and state laws also provide for some scenarios in which benefits may still be paid to workers who quit or have been laid off, legal experts say. For example, state and federal regulations for vaccinations require employers to try to accept workers who are requesting exemptions for religious or health reasons, or who object to the vaccine for moral reasons.
ESD spokesman Nick Demeris said that in cases where employees requested an exemption but employers were unable to provide it, resulting in the termination, the employee may still be eligible for benefits.
For example, if the fire department accepted a firefighter’s request for exemption from religious beliefs but was unable to find a role for the firefighter that did not involve public engagement, and hence decided to fire the employee, “it may be a circumstance in which someone can apply for benefits,” Demeris said.
However, simply asking for a tax exemption does not guarantee benefits, ESD officials and legal experts said.
Applicants who object to this mandate, for example, for religious or medical reasons, are likely to have to document their objections, said Anne Paxton, policy director of the Seattle and Spokane Unemployment Bill, which represents the man, who deprived of unemployment benefits.
“So if you casually say, “Oh yes, religious objection,” it won’t work without some [evidence] showing that … it’s not just a whim, ”Paxton said. According to Paxton, applicants may be asked to show that they also object to other vaccinations.
Employers themselves may be looking for ways to help workers who object to vaccinations remain eligible for unemployment benefits.
Typically, employers often challenge unemployment claims from laid-off or laid-off workers, in part to avoid paying higher unemployment taxes.
But given the politically motivated nature of the vaccination problem, and the struggle of many employers to retain workers, employers may be willing to classify a mandate-related layoff as a layoff that almost always entitles you to benefits rather than being fired or fired. voluntary exit.
Indeed, at least one local union has asked its employer to classify a mandate-related layoff as a layoff, thereby preserving eligibility for unemployment benefits, according to a local employment official, who asked not to be named as negotiations continue.
“Eventually this pandemic will end and [companies] they will still have trouble finding good people and will not want to ruin this relationship by challenging unemployment claims for unvaccinated employees, ”Emery said. “They want these people to come back.”