Kansas Court Upholds Denial of Unemployment Benefits to Vaccine Objector
Is an employee who was dismissed for refusing a flu vaccine entitled to unemployment insurance payments?
In many workplaces, especially hospitals, workers may be required to receive a vaccine against influenza or the flu as a condition of continued employment. There may be limited exceptions for religious or medical reasons, and some workplaces allow conscientious objectors to wear a mask as an alternative under so-called "vaccine-or-mask" policies. Many, however, insist on a vaccine.
Employers Sometimes Reject An Employee's Stated Medical Reasons
When a hospital employee in Kansas gave her employer a brief note from her doctor asking to "defer" her flu shot, the hospital did not accept it as a valid medical excuse. The employee then sent a more detailed explanation, saying that an aunt of hers had passed away two weeks after being vaccinated for the flu and that, after immunizations, her grandson had suffered seizures and permanent brain damage. She also wrote that she did not want to receive thimerosol, a mercury based preservative used in vaccines, because she believed it led to a higher risk of brain and nervous system damage and Alzheimer's disease.
The hospital fired her two days after receiving these reasons. When she began receiving unemployment benefits, the hospital successfully appealed to the Kansas Employment Security Board of Review to block them. The Board ruled she wasn’t eligible.
A lower court sided with the hospital and the Board. The Kansas Court of Appeals upheld the decision.
Court Affirms That Refusal to Receive a Flu Vaccine or Meet Exceptions Meant Employee Had Failed to Satisfy Job Requirements
The Kansas Court of Appeals ruled that, like other workers discharged for misconduct, the employee in this case was ineligible for benefits. The hospital, said a unanimous court, had to prove that the worker had failed to do her job duties, but it met this burden by showing that she refused to receive a vaccine and did not qualify for the applicable exceptions to the policy.
Not every state follows the Kansas approach. In cases in other jurisdictions, employees dismissed for refusing vaccines were at least allowed to receive unemployment benefits.
An Expert in Vaccine Law May Help Conscientious Objectors Facing Dismissal
Workers terminated for their refusal to be immunized against influenza or other diseases are not without legal recourse. With legal help they may be allowed to qualify for an exception to workplace policy. In the event of dismissal, a skilled attorney may be able to help them receive unemployment benefits. When forced to choose between a vaccine and continued employment, contacting a lawyer experienced in vaccine litigation may be a wise first step.