By Elisabeth Buchwald
Employees at New York state hospitals, adult care, and long-term care facilities who are fired or quit because they don’t want to follow the state’s vaccine mandate for health-care workers won’t be allowed to collect unemployment benefits in most cases.
“Absent a valid request for accommodation,” these workers won’t be able to collect unemployment benefits “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.
Hospital, adult care and long-term care workers had until Monday to get an initial COVID-19 vaccine dose, under an executive order former Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Aug. 16.
It’s up to employers to “develop a plan for implementation of the mandate and what happens if employees do not comply,” Erin Silk, a spokesperson for New York’s Department of Health, told MarketWatch. “Their plans could include termination,” she added.
When Cuomo announced the mandate, some 75% of the state’s 450,000 hospital workers, 74% of the state’s 30,000 adult-care workers and 68% of the state’s nursing home workers were fully vaccinated.
As the Sept. 27 deadline approached, more of these workers got vaccinated.
Some 87% of hospital workers were fully vaccinated as of Wednesday. And as of Tuesday, some 89% of adult-care workers and some 92% of nursing home workers were fully vaccinated, according to state data.
Health-care workers who don’t want to follow the vaccine mandate aren’t the only employees who could miss out on unemployment benefits. Public employees who work in a public setting are required to be vaccinated or test negative for COVID-19; if they refuse to do either, they “may be disqualified” from collecting unemployment benefits, according to New York’s Department of Labor.
In general, jobless people have to prove that they lost their job through no fault of their own to qualify for unemployment benefits across all states.
“This often means that they are let go due to a lack of work,” said Alana Ackels, a labor and employment lawyer at Bell Nunnally, a Dallas-based law firm, previously told MarketWatch.
(People who quit their jobs can qualify in some cases for benefits, but quitting over a vaccine mandate isn’t likely to allow people to qualify for benefits, an employment law expert previously told MarketWatch .)
Refusing to get a COVID-19 vaccine, if your employer requires one, “is akin to an employee’s refusal to submit to permissible drug tests or participate in safety trainings,” said Ronald Zambrano, employment law chair at West Coast Trial Lawyers, a Los Angeles–based law firm. That means that such an employee, when terminated, would not qualify for unemployment benefits, Zambrano said.
However, New York is unique from most states in that “a worker who refuses an employer’s directive to get vaccinated may be eligible for [unemployment insurance] in some cases if that person’s work has no public exposure and the worker has a compelling reason for refusing to comply with the directive,” according to the state Department of Labor’s website.
The agency declined to provide examples of “compelling reasons” and said that “eligibility will depend on the circumstances as each claim is unique and reviewed on a case-by-case basis.”