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176 Iowans have claimed unemployment benefits for not getting vaccinated

a person extracts vaccine from a bottle
Simon Maina
AFP via Getty Images
The state is reporting 176 Iowans claimed unemployment benefits after getting fired for not getting vaccinated.

The state is reporting 176 Iowans claimed unemployment benefits within about the first six weeks ofa new law extending jobless payments to people fired for not getting vaccinated.

According to Iowa Workforce Development, 176 people filed for unemployment benefits “citing jobs that had ended due to a failure to comply with an employer’s mandate for the COVID-19 vaccine” between Nov. 1 and Dec. 8. IWD said 35.2 percent of them worked in “health care and social assistance,” and 19.9 percent worked in manufacturing.

“I think that certainly it could be higher if we didn’t have a stay on some of the [federal] vaccine mandates,” said Denise Hill, an attorney and Drake University professor who wrote a book about workplace vaccine mandates. “Certainly some of the employers, regardless if they’re health care or otherwise, have stayed termination.”

The Iowa Legislature passed a law in late October that directs employers to waive vaccine requirements for employees who say they believe the COVID-19 vaccine would hurt their health or wellbeing or would conflict with their religion. They don’t have to provide proof from a doctor or religious leader.

If employees are fired for not getting vaccinated, the new law says they can collect unemployment benefits.

Hill said that’s a “huge departure” from typical unemployment policies that don’t allow people to collect benefits if they break a workplace rule.

JD Davis with the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, a group that opposed the new law, said the court rulings putting all three federal vaccine mandates on hold have had an impact.

“We think that has spared quite a number of people from having to claim unemployment,” Davis said.

He said he hopes the federal vaccine mandates will be blocked permanently. But for now, Davis said most labor attorneys are advising companies to be prepared in case courts allow the mandates to go into effect.

“That, at this point, includes having good plans on how they’re going to execute the mandates, [and] beginning to understand…the vaccine status of their workforces,” Davis said.

Hill said apart from the federal vaccine mandates, employers and employees should consider that the pandemic is intensifying, with COVID-19 hospitalizations continuing to increase in Iowa.

“With that in mind, it’s important for all of us to decide if we want to get beyond this,” Hill said. “And for right now, the best way to do that is to get vaccinated, and we’re finding increasingly to get boosted, as well.”

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter