Arizonans fired over COVID vaccination might not get unemployment

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Arizona’s largest hospital system and others have set a Monday deadline for their employees to be vaccinated or face termination, but some employees who already have been fired for refusing a vaccine are learning they aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits.

Banner Health, ValleyWise Health, HonorHealth and Dignity Health are set to require COVID-19 vaccinations Monday. Others have set deadlines that already have passed.

Mayo Clinic, a Minnesota-based hospital nonprofit with two facilities in the valley, announced in July it would require all employees to be vaccinated by Sept. 17. In a release, it said staff who declined to be vaccinated for COVID-19 “must complete education modules and will be required to wear masks and socially distance when on campus.”

The hospital said in a statement that it respects the decision of employees who choose not to be vaccinated for COVID-19, but this is a time when the clinic must stand with the evidence supporting the efficacy and safety of COVID-19 vaccines.

“We regret that a small number of employees from Mayo Clinic’s participation program launched in July feel so strongly about this that their decision would result in their employment with Mayo Clinic coming to an end,” a spokesperson said Friday afternoon.

Mayo declined to say whether it has fought against an unemployment claim from one of its former workers who was fired over vaccination status.

Phoenix Children's Hospital set a deadline of Oct. 1 for all employees to be fully vaccinated. Their communications staff didn’t respond to questions about their policy for unvaccinated terminations as of Friday afternoon.

Businesses that get contracts from the federal government will have to adhere to a vaccine mandate beginning in December.

The Arizona Department of Economic Security confirmed Thursday that some workers are getting unemployment benefit applications denied.

“While vaccination requirements are not specifically addressed, DES staff review the specific circumstances of each individual’s application to determine whether the individual qualifies for benefits,” ADES Press Secretary Tasya Peterson said. “Losing a job because of a failure to become vaccinated will not immediately disqualify an individual from benefits in Arizona. However, as mentioned, there are a number of factors that must be considered for eligibility, therefore, not all individuals who lose a job because they cannot or choose not to become vaccinated will be eligible.”

Peterson said all reviews involve the individual and the former employer.

An Arizona state law currently being litigated forbids COVID-19 vaccination as a precondition of employment but exempts certain industries such as health care.

State Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, who sponsored legislation that increased unemployment benefits in Arizona, said he had been told the same by ADES on Friday morning.

“What doesn’t make sense is the medical industry doing this,” he told The Center Square on Friday. “They need those people, and now you’re going to terminate them? It doesn’t make any sense. That wasn’t part of their eligibility and application process when they were hired.”

Representatives for Banner Health weren’t available to explain the hospital system’s policy for those who could be terminated next week.

Benefit denials are happening in other states.

Employees in Washington state who refuse to comply with workplace COVID-19 vaccination mandates most likely will not qualify to receive unemployment benefits.

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