Most workers fired for refusing COVID-19 vaccinations won't get jobless benefits, experts say

Kelly Gooch - Print  | 

Organizations across the U.S., including hospitals and health systems, are increasingly requiring COVID-19 vaccination for employees, particularly as the delta variant spreads. One question that has come up amid the mandates: Are employees who are fired for noncompliance eligible for unemployment? 

USA Today set out to answer this question in light of an Aug. 4 Facebook post, which had racked up 6,000 shares as of Aug. 10.

"If your employer is mandating any pokes, DO NOT QUIT," the post reads. "Make them fire you. That way, you get unemployment benefits and can pursue legal action."

But after research and speaking with a dozen employment and labor experts, USA Today determined that the claim that employees who refuse a vaccine qualify for unemployment benefits is partly false. Facebook also labeled the social media post as containing partly false information.

Experts told USA Today employees who are fired for misconduct for violating a company's policy regarding vaccination generally are unlikely to qualify for unemployment benefits. But experts said states have differing guidelines for unemployment qualifications, and some exceptions exist.

"Employees should not refuse vaccination relying on the assumption that they will be able to collect unemployment," Natalie Sanders, an employment law attorney with Brooks Pierce, wrote in an email to USA Today.

The Facebook user who shared the Aug. 4 post did not return the newspaper's request for comment. 

While experts say employees generally are ineligible for unemployment benefits if they are fired for violating a known workplace policy that applies to everyone, they contend employees may still qualify if they have proof of a medical or religious exemption, according to USA Today.

Hospitals and health systems requiring vaccination are allowing these exemptions. 

Read the full USA Today report here

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