Q: We made the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for our employees and asked each employee to show their vaccination card to our HR manager. One of our employees misplaced their card, and another submitted a card that’s photocopied and blurry.
How should we handle situations like this, where the employee is not able to adequately establish their vaccination status? And for those who refuse the vaccine and are discharged, are we on the hook for their unemployment claims?
A: As an employer, you may require that your in-person employees be vaccinated, and you may require that they submit proof of vaccination status. (Remember that there are two exceptions to this rule: those employees whose disabilities conflict with the COVID vaccine, and those with religious objections.)
If you believe an employee’s vaccination card is illegible, unreliable, or missing, you may require that your employee obtain and submit a replacement card.
Individuals can easily obtain a replacement vaccine card by contacting the provider that administered the employee’s vaccine in the first place—such as Walgreen’s or Hartford HealthCare.
Individuals can also contact the Connecticut Department of Public Health, and request written confirmation of their vaccination status.
Keep in mind that you, as an employer, may not request this information; you may only require that your employees obtain it, and forward it to you.
You should not request more information than what is contained on a CDC vaccination card.
If you terminate an employee for refusing to get a vaccine, in violation of company policy, that employee will likely not be eligible for unemployment benefits, as long as the following is true:
- You terminated the employee for willful misconduct, in that they knowingly violated an effectively-communicated company policy requiring the vaccine.
- The policy was “reasonable” and “reasonably applied.” For example, it considered exemptions for disabilities and religious objections, and gave employees sufficient time to obtain the vaccine.
- The policy was uniformly enforced.
Unemployment claims based on terminations for vaccine refusal are new developments for the Connecticut Department of Labor.
However, if employers follow the guidelines listed above, they are unlikely to be liable for such claims.