Some States Will Now Pay Unemployment Benefits to Workers Fired for Not Getting a COVID Vaccine

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Many companies are imposing vaccine mandates. In some states, workers have more protections against them than others.

Key points

  • Workers who are fired for cause generally aren't eligible for unemployment benefits.
  • In some cases, workers can now receive benefits if they were terminated for not getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

Unemployment benefits can serve as a lifeline for workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. This especially holds true for those who don't have money in savings.

But to qualify for unemployment, you need to have been terminated through no fault of your own. Generally, that means if your company is downsizing or eliminating your position, you can collect benefits because you did nothing wrong. But if you repeatedly show up to work late or violate company policy by sharing secrets with a competitor, that's reason enough to not only get the axe but also be rendered ineligible for unemployment benefits.

Earlier this year, many companies began imposing COVID-19 vaccine mandates -- a move that's certainly been met with mixed reactions. Many workers who have refused the vaccine and gotten fired as a result have been shocked to learn that their actions have rendered them ineligible for unemployment. But now, some states are changing their policies when it comes to jobless benefits for the unvaccinated.

A tough situation

Refusing to get a COVID-19 vaccine when a company mandates one is considered a violation of company policy. And so, if you're fired because of that, it's considered getting fired for cause.

Now most companies are required to make exceptions to their COVID-19 vaccine rules for people who can't get a shot for medical or religious reasons. But still, companies do have the right to impose those vaccine mandates, and in most states, getting fired for failing to comply with them will result in no jobless benefits. But recently, the governors of Florida, Iowa, Kansas and Tennessee signed laws dictating that workers who lose their jobs due to not getting a COVID-19 shot can indeed collect unemployment, even though that goes against typical state rules.

Things could change in other states, too. Lawmakers in New York, Wisconsin, and Arkansas have all introduced bills that call for workers fired for not getting vaccinated to be eligible for unemployment.

At this point, about 57% of large companies either have a COVID-19 vaccine mandate in place or plan to implement one, according to a survey by Willis Towers Watson. But more than half of those will only move forward with those plans if the Biden administration makes that a requirement.

The Biden administration has tried implementing a rule where businesses with 100 employees or more must require COVID-19 vaccines. But the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has suspended enforcement of that rule following a decision by a federal appeals court to put it on pause.

The Biden administration is asking companies to move forward with COVID-19 vaccine requirements voluntarily in the interim. Many companies want those requirements in place regardless of a national mandate.

Options for workers who don't want the vaccine

Many feel that getting vaccinated is a personal choice. If you really have strong feelings about getting vaccinated, try talking things out with your employer. You never know if your employer might agree to make an exception even if you don't qualify for one based on religious or medical reasons, such as letting you work from home or get tested daily in lieu of an actual vaccine.

But if your employer won't budge, know that in most of the country, being fired for not getting a jab will mean not getting to collect unemployment. That's a risk you'll need to accept if you don't get a COVID-19 shot when it's a requirement at your job.

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