Unemployment benefits uncertain for Washington workers who quit or are fired for vaccination mandates
As the vaccination deadline for thousands of workers in Washington state rolled on Monday, officials warned those resigning or being fired because of Gov. Jay Inslee’s tenure for state government employees , health workers and others should not rely on unemployment benefits.
The warning also applies to a separate federal vaccine mandate for private employers with 100 or more employees, officials from the State Department of Job Security said.
But with those messages come plenty of caveats and gray areas, the experts said. For example, employees made redundant after being approved for a vaccine exemption may be eligible to apply for unemployment benefits.
“We are in new territory,” said Timothy Emery, managing partner at Emery Reddy, a Seattle-based employment law firm. “It’s not tested.”
Given the novelty of vaccination warrants, the intricacies of labor law and the wide discretion of the state to decide eligibility, workers filing warrant-related unemployment claims have little certainty about the outcome, according to legal experts.
Adding to the uncertainty: Some groups of workers have negotiated or are in the process of negotiating agreements with employers that could potentially help non-compliant workers avoid being “separated” in a way that impairs their entitlement to benefits.
ESD’s ability to quickly review a large number of contested unemployment claims that could result from tenure has also not been tested – although so far the agency has seen only a few related unemployment claims. mandate, according to spokesperson Nick Demerice.
Benefits uncertainty looms as some workers push back on mandates and employers fear the ultimatums will exacerbate an already painful labor shortage.
Several hundred people, mostly Boeing employees, protested the company’s new vaccination mandate on Friday, with some saying they would resign rather than submit to the jab.
Federal and state laws give employers considerable latitude to enforce workplace requirements. This authority was bolstered by a recent notice from the US Department of Justice that allows employers to require vaccines approved for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration, as is the case for COVID-19 vaccines. .
Unemployment benefits are generally more easily approved for workers who have been made redundant than for those who have voluntarily resigned or been fired for just cause.
But federal and state laws also contemplate certain scenarios in which benefits could still be paid to workers who quit or are laid off, according to legal experts. Under national and federal vaccine mandates, for example, employers should try to accommodate workers who request exemptions for religious or health reasons or who oppose the vaccine on moral grounds.
In cases where employees requested an exemption but employers were unable to grant it, resulting in a separation, the employee may still be entitled to benefits, the spokesperson said. ESD, Nick Demerice.
For example, if a fire department accepted a firefighter’s religious exemption request but could not find a role for the firefighter that does not involve interaction with the public, and so decided to fire the employee, “this may be a circumstance where someone might be eligible for benefits,” Demerice said.
However, simply asking for an exemption will not guarantee the benefits, EDD officials and legal experts have said.
Applicants who oppose the warrant on religious or medical grounds, for example, will likely have to document their objections, said Anne Paxton, policy director for the Seattle and Spokane-based Unemployment Bill, who represents people who are denied unemployment benefits.
“So casually saying, “Oh yeah, religious objection” isn’t going to fly without some sort of [evidence] showing that… it’s not just a whim, ”Paxton said. Applicants could be asked to show that they oppose other vaccinations as well, Paxton said.
Employers themselves can look for ways to help employees who oppose vaccination maintain their eligibility for unemployment benefits.
Ordinarily, employers often contest the unemployment claims of workers who quit or are laid off, in part to avoid paying higher unemployment taxes.
But given the politically charged nature of the immunization issue as well as the struggles of many employers to retain workers, employers may be willing to classify a tenure-related termination as a layoff, which is almost always. eligible for benefits, instead of termination or voluntary resignation.
Indeed, at least one local union was asking its employer to classify terminations related to the mandate as layoffs, thus preserving eligibility for unemployment benefits, according to a local labor official who asked not to be identified because the negotiations were in progress.
“Eventually this pandemic will end, and [companies] will always have a hard time finding good people, and they won’t want to ruin those relationships by contesting the jobless claims of unvaccinated employees, ”Emery said. “They want these people to come back. ”