Health

Alabama lawmakers approve measures to protect jobs for the unvaccinated

In an effort to tackle COVID-19 vaccination requirements for workers, Alabama lawmakers on Thursday passed a law barring companies from laying off workers seeking relief from liability for religious or medical reasons.

Republicans said they have responded to protests by unvaccinated voters who fear losing their jobs over the Biden administration’s orders to vaccinate federal contractors. Democrats argued that the law would jeopardize both federal contractors and public health in order to gain political points.

The Republican-sponsored bill says employers must exempt employees from the COVID-19 vaccination requirement if the employee returns a new standardized state uniform to demand exemption for religious or medical reasons. Alabama lawmakers finally approved the bill late Thursday night after a vote that largely went through party lines. Now it goes to the Governor of Alabama, Kay Ivy.

Republican Senator Chris Elliott, a sponsor of the bill, said lawmakers wanted to “get in the hole and provide some protection for employees” while federal courts hear claims filed by Republican states challenging the mandate against federal contractors.

“There are people in Alabama who are in pain right now who are trying to make decisions about the vaccines they fear … They risk losing their jobs due to federal regulations that are not really needed,” he said. Elliot said.

Andalusian Republican Representative Mike Jones said the federal government already allows tax exemptions for medical and religious reasons, and lawmakers are trying to provide employees with an easy way to apply for such benefits. “They’re afraid of losing the jobs they’ve had for 20 years, the very good jobs they’ve had with federal contractors,” Jones said.

Jones said they are trying to find a way to protect employees without harming federal contractors who face this mandate. But House minority leader Anthony Daniels of Huntsville argued the law would do just that, preventing the company from fulfilling its federal mandate.

“I’m fucking angry right now because this is a job killing,” Daniels said, saying federal contractors provide many jobs in and around his Huntsville area.

In September, Biden announced that executive officers and contractors who do business with the federal government must be vaccinated – without the ability to get tested. Other regulations require companies with 100 or more employees to regularly screen unvaccinated employees for COVID-19. While much of the debate focused on federal vaccination requirements, it also influenced companies to set their own vaccination requirements for workers.

Some Democrats said the GOP proposal would create a wide-open portal for people to fraudulently demand exclusion from the vaccination mandate for no real reason.

“You know, and I know, everyone, even atheists, is going to come up and say it’s because of their religious beliefs,” said Democratic Rep. Peblin Warren from Tuskegee.

According to the law, employees will check the box in the new form because they cannot get vaccinated, for example, for religious reasons, certain medical indications, or signed recommendations by health professionals that a person should not be vaccinated. No need to prove the reason. An employee who is denied exemption can appeal to the State Department of Labor.

This proposal is a departure from existing law that allows companies to fire workers at will. The bill states that it will not affect an employer’s ability to fire an employee for reasons other than the employee’s vaccination status against COVID-19.

The new workplace protection procedures will automatically end on May 1, 2023, unless legislators extend them.

The passage of the law stems from Republican leaders in many states trying to find ways to counter the federal vaccination mandate, which they describe as an encroachment on personal freedom. The bill drew opposition from the business group, which said it would put federal contractors in a stalemate.

“Failure to comply with a federal mandate could result in the loss of current and future contracts and jobs for their companies and communities,” said the Alabama Business Council.

Legislators have approved a separate bill requiring parental consent to vaccinate minors against COVID-19.

Alabama has had at least 15,629 COVID-19-related deaths, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, and has the second highest COVID-19 death rate per capita among states.


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