Could refusal of the COVID-19 vaccine cost you in the long run?

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Posted at 5:11 PM, Aug 26, 2021

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — The list of states and employers requiring the COVID-19 vaccine is growing, following the full FDA approval of the Pfizer shot.

In New York, all school staff are asked to be vaccinated or test out. All health care workers are also required to get the vaccine.

RELATED STORY: What Pfizer's COVID vaccine approval means

More than two dozen of U.S. companies are also requiring their workers get vaccinated now; Walt Disney World, Delta Airlines, CVS and Goldman Sachs, including military personnel.

With these vaccine mandates, many people are asking if this is legal and if they could risk getting fired.

Jim Grasso is a labor and employment lawyer with Phillips Lytle in Buffalo. He and 7 Eyewitness News' Pheben Kassahun talked about these concerns many people have shared with WKBW:

PHEBEN: Let's say someone were to get fired for not getting the COVID-19 vaccine, in terms of like, refusing to get the vaccine, would they be able to receive unemployment benefits?

JIM GRASSO: The determination for unemployment varies from state to state, but for example in New York, if an employee is fired for misconduct or insubordination, they typically are not eligible. Given that employers are able to mandate the vaccine, like other safety protocols: for example, requiring restaurant employees to wash their hands. If an employer mandates the vaccine and the employee refuses, it's likely to be considered insubordination or misconduct and resulting in an employee being denied benefits. I haven't seen any decision from the employment office yet. They don't publish those things, but I think under those circumstances, that's the most likely outcome.

PHEBEN: How can employers persuade or push their employees to get vaccinated?

JIM GRASSO: There are quite a few ways to do that. One- they can encourage it in any reasonable fashion that they want. Incentives like financial incentives, time off incentives. In New York, employers have to provide four hours of paid leave for each vaccination shot, so that's a state mandated incentive so-to-speak.

PHEBEN: Do you think this type of mandate is reasonable?

JIM GRASSO: From my perspective as a labor and attorney employee representing employers, I do. The reason for that, as a society we are facing a threat that effects all of us. There is a what's shown to be an effective but safe way to limit the harms through the vaccine. It's been given to hundreds of millions of people so, I think we have a responsibility to not only protect ourselves but other people we work with.

PHEBEN: Anything else you want to add, anything I may have missed?

JIM GRASSO: Just one thing. You know for mandatory vaccines, employers and employees should keep in mind that if an employee has a medical or religious objection, an employer would have to consider whether or not they could exempt the employee from being vaccinated. It's not an automatic exemption but they'd have to consider it. At the end of the day, if they couldn't that could be a situation where an employee who doesn't get vaccinated might be able to get unemployment benefits because they have a valid religious or medical reason on why they can't get it."

RELATED STORY: With FDA approval, more employers may mandate vaccination