I was fired for not getting the COVID vaccine. Can I collect unemployment benefits?

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Many employers are requiring the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of employment. Employers are now more comfortable requiring the vaccine as the FDA has fully approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. That combined with the alarming increase of infections due to the Delta variant, companies are changing their corporate policies to require vaccinations. However, there are still over 80 million unvaccinated Americans. This means that there will be employees without a valid medical or religious belief that will be fired for not getting the COVID vaccine. Many of these employees will be ineligible for unemployment benefits.

State Law

Eligibility rules for unemployment benefits are governed by the state in which you work. In most states, employees will be denied unemployment benefits for being fired for misconduct. Violating company policy can be considered misconduct. However, each state will have their own definition on what constitutes misconduct and refusal to get a vaccine may or may not be included in that definition. Furthermore, every situation is different and the state will review each case individually. For example, if an employer has required vaccines all along and an employee just refuses the COVID vaccine, he may have a harder time arguing a case over someone who is only required to get the COVID vaccine.

Contact your state’s unemployment agency to see where they stand on the refusal to get the COVID vaccine and whether it is misconduct. As more employees file unemployment claims, some states should provide clarity on the issue. But, don’t be surprised if you do not get a clear answer. There is still a lot of ambiguity on the subject. Many state legislatures have introduced proposed laws that would prohibit state agencies from discriminating based in vaccinations status. As of right now, Montana is the only state that prohibits discrimination based on vaccination status.

Filing A Claim

Before you file a claim, make sure you were legally terminated. If you were fired because you refused to get a vaccine based on a medical issue or a religious belief, you may have been wrongfully terminated. Employees are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. These laws protect employees from discrimination and may require employers to offer a reasonable accommodation. If you feel that you were wrongfully terminated due to a medical issue or religious belief, you should speak with an employment attorney as soon as possible.

When filing an unemployment claim, the burden of proof is usually on the employer to show that the employee should be denied unemployment benefits. It is up to the employer to decide whether to contest an unemployment claim. As hard as it may be, try to end terms with your employer on a good note. If you notice that other employees who were terminated for refusing to get the COVID vaccine were approved for unemployment benefits and you were not, you should speak with an employment attorney. Unless your reason for refusal is substantially different, there is no reason why your case should not be approved either.

This article is intended for informational purposes only. It provides general information and is not intended and should not be construed as professional advice. The author is not your attorney, accountant, financial planner or any other professional and no professional-client relationship is created. We do not represent that the information provided is accurate or up-to-date as laws and regulations are always changing. If you have an issue that requires professional help, you should contact the appropriate professional to help you on your specific set of facts. Please read the Terms and Conditions for additional information.


Alicia Lillegard, Esq.

Alicia Lillegard has over 20 years of experience in employment law, human resources and insurance, working with with large blue chip companies, startups, and not-for-profit organizations. Ms. Lillegard is currently Managing Director of New England Human Capital, a human resources consultancy which advises small and midsize businesses on Human Resources compliance, including employment procedures, employee relations and employee benefits. She holds degrees from Loyola University Chicago and John Marshall Law School.

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