We’re getting a huge volume of calls and emails on exemptions to employer mandates. This is the current general information we’ve been providing, which again, is general information. This is all based on federal law. State laws around the country may provide for different, possibly better, protections. We are currently on taking cases in West Virginia. If you’re in Kentucky, you should contact Attorney Chris Wiest, from whom I hijacked some of the below Q&As.
1. Exemption requests: Yes, you need to submit the requests to trigger legal protections. The only legal exemptions are for medical or religious exemptions. Yes, you need to make the request even if your employer says they are not taking or accepting them. Yes you should do so even if your employer is requiring a pastor note and you cannot get one. The buzz word is that you have a “sincerely held religious belief.” You should document the what and why of that belief. The employer can require you to answer questions about the request to determine if it is sincere. Including asking questions about prior vaccines (if your request is based on aborted fetal cells, be prepared to answer the question on your having received prior vaccines — and answering it that you didn’t know when you received them but now do is an acceptable answer).
You can learn more about the basis for a religious exception, based on the Thomas More Society litigation in New York, here: https://thecivilrightslawyer.com/2021/09/25/religious-exemptions-for-vaccines-under-title-7-and-private-employers-in-the-health-care-field/
You can learn more about the issue of whether an employer gets to question your religious beliefs here: https://thecivilrightslawyer.com/2021/10/07/employers-do-not-get-to-define-religion-in-exemption-applications/
You should also document prior exposure, infection, and any antibody tests. And send that to the employer to document the fact that giving you an exemption cannot possibly burden the employer.For medical exemptions, you need a doctors note. It should document your particular medical condition and indicate the threat the vaccine poses to you. These are going to be the rare exception.
2. They denied my exemption: Ask them to explain what burdens, if any, they expect to suffer from the grant of exemption.
3. What next?: As a practical matter: you are left with two choices after a denial: (a) get fired and pursue a wrongful discharge lawsuit; or (b) get the vaccine. Injunctive relief actions prior to firing may be available if your employer is a governmental entity but these are tricky unless there are blanket denials. We may be able to help in these situations.
If you are FIRED from either a private and government employer and (I) you requested a religious exemption; (II) you documented prior infection and antibodies; and (III) the employer denied the exemption, we may be able to help.
If you’re in West Virginia, the State Legislature just tentatively passed legislation created three state-law based exceptions to both public and private employer mandates. It provides for medical, religious and natural immunity exceptions. It hasn’t yet been signed by the Governor. However, since he proposed the legislation, he is expected to sign it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t become effective law until 90 days after it’s signed (because there wasn’t 2/3 majority vote).
The new law provides that:
(a) A covered employer, as defined in this section, that requires as a condition of continued employment or as a condition of hiring an individual for employment that such person receive a COVID-19 immunization or present documentation of immunization from COVID-19, shall exempt current or prospective employees from such immunization requirements upon the presentation of one of the following certifications:
(1) A certification presented to the covered employer, signed by a physician licensed pursuant to the provisions of §30-3-1 et seq. or §30-14-1 et seq. of this code or an advanced practice registered nurse licensed pursuant to the provisions of §30-7-1 et seq. of this code who has conducted an in person examination of the employee or prospective employee, stating that the physical condition of the current or prospective employee is such that a COVID-19 immunization is contraindicated, there exists a specific precaution to the mandated vaccine, or the current or prospective employee has developed COVID-19 antibodies from being exposed to the COVID-19 virus or suffered from and has recovered from the COVID-19 virus; or
(2) A notarized certification executed by the employee or prospective employee that is presented to the covered employer by the current or prospective employee that he or she has religious beliefs that prevent the current or prospective employee from taking the COVID-19 immunization.
So, in other words, the employer will not have discretion to question the religious sincerity of the employee, which is currently occurring on a wide basis. Therefore, any current religious applications being asserted might as well include a notarized certificate tracking this statutory language. E.g., “I, John Doe hereby certify that I have religious beliefs that prevent me from taking the COVID-19 immunization.” Additionally, any medical exemptions being asserted might as well include a physician’s certification that the employee has antibodies and/or has already suffered from and recovered from the virus.
Many have asked whether this will be applicable to federal employees. This new law applies to “covered employers,” who are defined as follows:
(A) The State of West Virginia, including any department, division, agency, bureau, board, commission, office or authority thereof, any political subdivision of the State of West Virginia including, but not limited to, any county, municipality or school district; or
(B) A business entity, including without limitation any individual, firm, partnership, joint venture, association, corporation, company, estate, trust, business trust, receiver, syndicate, club, society, or other group or combination acting as a unit, engaged in any business activity in this state, including for-profit or not-for-profit activity, that has employees.
So, no it doesn’t appear to apply to federal employees, which would probably be unconstitutional for a couple of reasons. I see no reason why employees of business entities who are federal contractors wouldn’t be covered, to the extent said employees are based in West Virginia and the business activity is based in West Virginia. As for independent federal contractors who are being subjected to the federal mandate, there would be no applicability if they don’t have a business entity as an employer who is engaging in business activity in West Virginia.