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On Your Side: Answering your questions about the SCOTUS ruling on vaccine mandates

A local legal expert weighed in on how the ruling on vaccine mandates could affect you.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Supreme Court is blocking the nationwide vaccine and testing mandate for large businesses (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), but is allowing the health care worker (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) vaccine mandate to take effect.

A local legal expert weighed in on how the ruling on vaccine mandates could affect you.

The On Your Side team has answers to three of the biggest questions viewers are asking right now.

1. Can private companies mandate employees get vaccines?

The short answer is yes.

“There is no federal law that prevents an employer from putting in place a vaccine mandate, and there is no federal law that requires it now, with this OSHA rule being pushed out," Jacksonville attorney James Poindexter, who specializes in employment law said.

2. How does the Supreme Court’s ruling impact the current Florida statute regarding vaccine mandates?

If private companies mandate employees get vaccines, Poindexter says they still need to follow the state statute, which requires additional exemptions from the typical medical and religious ones. They include pregnancy or anticipated pregnancy, “COVID-19 immunity” and periodic testing. 

“I would encourage any employer to make sure they're getting good legal advice before they put [a vaccine mandate] in place to make sure that they don't end up in a place where they're getting fined," Poindexter said.

As for the health care companies, the CMS vaccine mandate preempts state laws that conflict. 

3. Do healthcare workers who are fired for refusing to get the vaccine have any grounds for suing?

The short answer is no.

He also says they won’t qualify for unemployment benefits, because they would be considered terminated for their own misconduct due to violating a federal rule.

“Now, if the employee has a valid exemption under the ADEA, for disability, or under the Civil Rights Act, for a religious exemption, and the employer violates the rights, then that would be a different story," Poindexter explained. "And, that will give employee recourse to challenge their termination as being a discriminatory act.“

Additionally, he doesn’t think employees have grounds to sue their private employers who mandated they get the vaccine or do weekly testing while OSHA's mandate made its way through the courts.

By the way, it may not be over yet as far as the OSHA vaccine mandate goes.

Poindexter says there is the ability to rewrite the OSHA mandate to draw more distinctions between certain industries that are at the highest risk of COVID-19 transmission to both employees and customers, like the CMS mandate does.