Where states stand on unemployment for workers fired over vaccination mandates

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Generally, healthcare workers who are fired for refusing to comply with COVID-19 vaccination mandates likely can't collect unemployment benefits, although there may be exceptions based on the state and a worker's situation, employment experts told CNBC.

Some healthcare workers have already been fired for noncompliance, and some have resigned or quit amid vaccination requirements.

But Christopher Moran, a partner and employment attorney at law firm Troutman Pepper Hamilton Sanders, told CNBC, "If you don't want to be vaccinated, don't have a religious or disability exemption, and you lose your job, chances are you will be found ineligible for unemployment compensation."

Anne Paxton, an attorney and policy director at the Unemployment Law Project, agreed.

She told CNBC that in most states, workers can collect unemployment benefits after they are laid off, quit a job for "good cause" or are terminated for a reason other than "misconduct."

Refusal to comply with a vaccination policy likely would be deemed "misconduct" if the worker didn't have an approved exemption, Ms. Paxton told CNBC.

Still, experts say states have differing guidelines for unemployment qualifications, and there are some exceptions.

For example, in a statement released Sept. 25, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul's office said the New York Department of Labor has issued guidance to clarify that terminated workers won't be eligible for unemployment benefits unless they have a valid physician-approved request for medical accommodation.

"Workers in a healthcare facility, nursing home, or school who voluntarily quit or are terminated for refusing an employer-mandated vaccination will be ineligible … absent a valid request for accommodation because these are workplaces where an employer has a compelling interest in such a mandate, especially if they already require other immunizations," according to the New York Department of Labor website.

In Washington state, officials said the state's Employment Security Department will examine various factors.

According to the department website, "These factors may include when the employer adopted the requirement, whether the employee is otherwise eligible for benefits, the specific terms of the vaccine policy including allowable exemptions, and the reason why the employee did not comply with the vaccine requirement."

"For example, when the employer offered religious or medical accommodations, but the employee does not qualify for an accommodation and does not comply with the vaccine requirement, a claim would likely be denied," the department said. "However, some individuals may still qualify based on their own unique circumstances."

CNBC also reported that some state legislatures have tried to make changes, such as in Tennessee, where legislation was proposed in January to allow workers who quit their jobs because of vaccination requirements to get unemployment benefits.

The issue of unemployment benefits comes as President Joe Biden on Sept. 9 unveiled his administration's six-pronged approach to curb the pandemic, including requiring all employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their staff are fully vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID-19 testing. Federal officials said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will issue an emergency temporary standard to implement the requirement, affecting more than 80 million workers in private sector businesses. 

Additionally, CMS said it will require COVID-19 vaccinations for more than 17 million healthcare workers at Medicare- and Medicaid-participating hospitals and other healthcare settings.

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