TULSA, Okla. — As the federal government and some companies begin enforcing vaccine mandates in the workplace, many are raising questions regarding exemptions.
Since the Biden Administration announced the vaccine mandate for millions of federal employees and companies with more than 100 employees, questions about vaccine exemptions have soared for Tulsa Employment Attorney, Frank Fraiser.
“We’ve had dozens and dozens of daily calls and emails from people about, does this apply to me? Do I have to wear a mask and more importantly do I have to have the vaccine the answer is yes," Fraiser said.
Fraiser said there are two exemptions that apply to the vaccine mandate. The first, is having a documented medical condition that prevents you from getting the vaccine.
“That comes under the Americans with Disabilities Act and that act passed years ago. It requires an employee and an employer to collaborate and work together. It’s, you can violate that law and you can have litigation results after that, but the intent of that really to have the employee an employer try to work out an accommodation,” Fraiser said.
Another is faith.
Fraiser said a religious exemption is very difficult for an employer to prove, leaving it up to the employer's discretion.
He said the employer could seek legal counsel to determine the validity of a religious claim.
It will be an employer that would have to use strict scrutiny for that religious exemption, and I predict that most employers won’t uphold those given the nature of this pandemic and the disease we’re trying to fight...it’s not local like I said for one of us, it affects all of us and those around us," Frasier said.
Fraiser said if an employer doesn't think the religious reason is valid, they have the right to fire an employee for insubordination.
“If you’re insubordinate in Oklahoma, most of the time, majority, 99 percent of the time you will not receive unemployment benefits in Oklahoma,” Fraiser said.
He said there will be people who will choose to leave their jobs instead of getting the vaccine, a risk he said private employers are choosing to take.
Fraiser said it's important for the employee and employer to talk to each other and find a solution that works for both parties.
“I’ve always stressed accommodation over litigation, is it worth losing this employee that you’ve made an investment in over this religious conviction, if you can make an accommodation, if you can have them wear the mask, if you can have them get the weekly test,” Frasier said. “I would encourage employers if they haven’t already to have that conversation with their employees, to have that dialogue, you know open lines of communication between employers and employees would really go a long way here,” Fraiser said.
He said the same is true for employees. If you know you have a medical condition, and this deadline is coming up, you need to work now to consult with your physician and get that documented and start a dialogue with your employer.
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