Excerpted from a USA Today article by McKenzie Sadeghi

The claim: Employees who are fired for refusing a vaccine are eligible for unemployment benefits

The highly transmissible delta coronavirus variant has caused a nationwide spike in cases, hospitalizations and deaths. As a result, an increasing number of workplaces are requiring employees to provide proof of vaccination.

In some states, company vaccine mandates have been met with opposition, with some employees resigning and filing lawsuits. A Morning Consult survey in June found that 18% of employees said they would quit if faced with pandemic-related mandates at work.

But some social media users say workers should avoid quitting their jobs if they want to collect unemployment benefits.

“If your employer is mandating any pokes, DO NOT QUIT,” reads an Aug. 4 Facebook post, which accumulated more than 5,000 shares within two days. “Make them fire you. That way, you get unemployment benefits and can pursue legal action.”

But that’s not accurate, according to a dozen employment and labor experts who spoke with USA TODAY.

A worker who does not comply with a company’s policy to get vaccinated is generally ineligible for unemployment benefits, experts say. But there are some exceptions – and unemployment qualification is not the same in every state.

“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, said in an email.

Companies can impose vaccine mandates
Private companies are free to set conditions of employment as long as they do not violate existing state and federal laws, legal experts say. And there is no federal law prohibiting companies from requiring vaccines.

Guidance from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says employers are not prohibited from requiring employees who are physically at the workplace to get vaccinated, as long as the requirements comply with other workplace laws. For example, the requirements must provide reasonable accommodations for those with disabilities and religious exemptions. Similarly, the U.S. Justice Department wrote in a legal opinion that businesses may lawfully require employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Jeffrey Hirsch, a University of North Carolina law professor, said workplace vaccine mandates are comparable to uniform requirements.

“American employment law is very deferential to employers, which are able to exert a lot of control over workers,” Hirsch said via email. “The COVID vaccine is just one example of this ability. While it’s obviously a politically charged one, it’s really no different in substance from a large number of others that have existed for a very long time.”

Several legal experts emphasized that because COVID-19 vaccines are still new, it’s likely vaccine mandates by private companies will be challenged in the courts, and rules could change.

Unemployment eligibility depends on state guidelines
It depends on the state, but in general an employee who is fired for refusing to comply with a company’s vaccination requirements is not eligible to collect unemployment, legal experts say.

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