In August, when Gov. Jay Inslee ordered government officials, medical workers and others to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 18, officials issued a stern warning: If you quit or get fired for refusing to give an injection, don’t wait. unemployment benefits.
But almost two months after the vaccination deadline, it is unclear what to worry about workers who are hesitant to get vaccinated.
While thousands of workers in Washington have likely quit or were laid off due to public or private vaccination requirements – including nearly 2,000 government employees as of November 15, according to state figures – there are only 26 claims for unemployment benefits related with a mandate were noted for consideration. State Department of Employment Safety and Security as of Friday. Although the verification process has not yet been completed, ESD officials do not believe that none of these claims have been rejected.
Noted claims are expected to rise in the coming weeks as ESD’s pending review process catches up with mandate-related claims and as a much broader federal vaccine mandate enters into force on Jan. 4, targeting companies with more than 100 employees, says in the message. ESD representative Nick Demeris. And, he added, “there will be many circumstances in which if you leave your employer on the basis of this requirement, you will not be eligible for benefits.”
Some lawyers are unsure about this. They think ESD could end up stripping benefits of only a relatively small number of workers who quit or were laid off in excess of their mandates, in part because of wider uncertainty about the rules that provide religious and health benefits to those who are hesitant to get vaccinated.
“Employers and agencies, including ESD, really don’t want to delve into the complexity of the question ‘What is a sincerely professed religious belief? “Or” what is a medical problem? ” said Timothy Emery, managing partner of Emery Reddy, a Seattle-based employment law firm.
Both Emery and Jason Ritterizer, attorney and COVID policy expert at HKM Employment Attorneys in Seattle, say they have yet to hear about an employee being denied over-mandate benefits despite receiving many requests. from workers about the requirements for vaccines.
“I saw that ESD does not fight unemployment. [benefits] in this context in general, ”Emery said.
Uncertainty over vaccination requirements and unemployment benefits has been growing since Gov. Jay Inslee issued vaccination orders in August.
Shortly thereafter, amid political outrage over the mandate, an ESD spokesman warned that while the mandate included exceptions for medical and religious reasons, staff who “disagree” on the mandate “should not assume that they are going to get insurance. on unemployment “. This post was largely confirmed by ESD on October 18, when the state’s deadline expired.
But from the outset, government officials also recognized that the issue of benefits was too delicate for a single general policy and required consideration on a case-by-case basis.
Federal and state laws give employers significant powers to set workplace requirements and fire workers for noncompliance if employers are also trying to accommodate legitimate religious or health concerns.
In theory, this means that being fired or fired due to vaccination regulations could preclude receiving unemployment benefits, much of which is paid to laid-off workers.
But unemployment rules have always allowed for possible exceptions: for example, when an employee leaves for anything other than misconduct, or when he leaves a notoriously hostile workplace.
COVID-19 has only added more scenarios where laid-off or laid-off workers may still be eligible for benefits.
A construction company, for example, might grant a religious exemption to an anti-vaccination worker, but he still has to let the worker go because all of his jobs require vaccinations.
“We saw a lot of circumstances in which employers would grant an exception or exemption and then do a second-tier analysis that said, ‘But we can’t satisfy you, and that’s why we’re still firing you,’” Ritterizer said. said.
According to Demeris, in such a case, the employee may still be eligible for unemployment benefits. Of the 1,956 civil servants who left or were dismissed at the end of their term of office as of November 15, “a significant proportion of them were people who were granted an exemption, but [were] cannot be accommodated, ”Demeris said. “In this situation, you are more likely to receive benefits.”
But workers who are skeptical about vaccines may remain eligible for benefits for other reasons, including because their employers are trying to avoid lawsuits by employees related to the mandate, legal experts say.
For example, employers may reclassify a layoff as a layoff that is technically covered by unemployment insurance. Or, employers may not exercise their right to challenge a laid-off employee’s claim for unemployment benefits – issues that often affect ESD’s final eligibility decision, legal experts say.
Employers hoping to avoid litigation “don’t want to corner the worker,” Emery said. “If you create a situation where your worker has no choice but to quit, and then you try to fight his unemployment benefits, you are asking [court] Wrestling.”
More broadly, many employers would prefer to avoid or postpone tough decisions involving conflicting political decisions, and to some extent this may even be the case with government agencies such as the ESD, legal experts say.
ESD “would prefer not to tackle the… nuance of whether someone who quits for mandate reasons should receive benefits,” Ritterizer said. “Employers and the Employment Department are looking for ways to interpret things in such a way that they do not come to a common conclusion on the mandate.”
“Nobody really wants to test this in the courts,” Emery added.
Another factor that could cut back on declined claims: Some laid-off workers may not even bother applying for unemployment benefits, which now only covers about half of the lost wages due to the expiration of extended federal benefits in September, to a maximum of 929 dollars a week. …
Nonetheless, ESD officials are sticking to their no-benefit idea. The small number of complaints flagged as mandate-related likely reflects the fact that most dismissal or termination complaints, regardless of reason, are automatically delayed for consideration, which can take six to eight weeks, Demeris said.
Given that the government mandate deadline expired about seven weeks ago, ESD expects an increase in the number of noted claims over the next two or three weeks, Demeris said.
“Some will inevitably be refused,” he added. “So it would be irresponsible on our part to spread a public message that says you are likely to benefit when a large number of people will not.”