Can you get unemployment benefits in Kansas if you are fired for denying COVID-19 vaccine?

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WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Some Kansas companies require their employees to get the COVID-19 vaccination or risk being fired.

One Wichita attorney says that if an employee is fired for not getting vaccinated, they could be denied unemployment benefits.

Terry Mann with Martin/Pringle Law Firm says a case in 2016 went all the way to the Kansas State Court of Appeals regarding a hospital employee in McPherson denying a flu vaccination.

Debra Rodenbaugh was fired from McPherson’s hospital after denying a required flu vaccine. However, when she initially filed for unemployment, she was accepted.

“But then the hospital appealed that, and the district court said, ‘No you can’t get benefits. It’s like any other rule your employer imposed,'” Mann said.

When the case eventually made its way to the Kansas Court of Appeals, the judges concluded, “Rhodenbaugh owed a duty to the hospital to follow the safety rule by either receiving the flu vaccine or meeting the applicable exemptions. Her failure to comply with the rule met the statutory definition of job-related misconduct and thus disqualified her for unemployment benefits.”

“There are a couple of exceptions to that if an employee has a disability or a medical condition that precludes vaccination,” Mann said. “Another exemption is if an employee has a religious objection to being vaccinated.”

KSN News reached out to the Kansas Department of Labor, asking if someone was fired for not getting vaccinated, would they be eligible for unemployment benefits? KDOL sent us the statement listed below:

Each unemployment insurance claim is unique and involves its own distinctive set of facts and circumstances that must be reviewed in order to make a determination with respect to what led to a claimant’s separation from employment. Upon making such a determination, the Kansas Department of Labor must then apply governing state law, regulations, and any applicable judicial precedent to the relevant facts to reach a conclusion regarding the individual’s legal qualification to receive benefits. Each case must be adjudicated on its individual merits, there is no general purpose, or “one size fits all” answer that can be provided to resolve the question of whether or not an individual who separates from employment due to the individual’s refusal to receive a vaccination will be found to be qualified to obtain unemployment insurance benefits.

Mann says the 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act puts employers in a tough spot. They have to ensure a safe work environment for all employees, so those businesses could make the case that they’re violating the OSHA Act if their employees are not vaccinated from COVID-19.

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