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VERIFY: Yes, companies can fire employees who refuse to get COVID-19 vaccine

Only exceptions: Employees who can’t get a vaccine for reasons related to a disability or religious beliefs.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The debate over COVID-19 vaccines is now more than just a medical dispute. The vaccine debate is now trickling into the workplace.

First Coast News has received several inquiries asking about the rights of workers who have or haven’t been vaccinated and are transitioning back to normal.

THE CLAIM

Employers are not allowed to ask employees if they’ve been vaccinated—FALSE 

SOURCES

With this claim, many people often cite the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) for their reasoning.

Employment Attorney James Poindexter, who often represents workers, said this isn’t the case.

“HIPAA does not protect you from your employer asking about your vaccination status and you do not have any recourse to sue your employer should they ask you about that,” Poindexter said.

You do however have the right to not share that information, but at your own risk.

This brings us to our next claim.

THE CLAIM

You can’t be fired for not being vaccinated.—FALSE

SOURCES

Poindexter starts by pointing out that Florida is an at-will state, meaning employers can fire an employee at any time with or without cause.

“Employers can certainly put in place a vaccine policy mandating all employees be vaccinated,” Poindexter said.

For this reason, we are going to verify this as false, but there are two exceptions to this ruling.

Though Florida is an at-will state, employers need to abide by laws preventing discrimination in the workplace.

Federal and Florida state law prohibits employers from firing employees based on:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Gender identity
  • Pregnancy
  • Sexual orientation
  • National origin
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Genetic information

In this case, employees who can’t get a vaccine for reasons related to a disability or religious beliefs can't be fired for not getting the vaccine.

“If you have a religious exemption you can prove or a medical disability and the employer terminates you for not getting the vaccine as a result of that, you have a pretty good discrimination case in my mind,” Poindexter said.

In these cases, make sure you have the paperwork to back up those claims.