The Oregon Employment Department said Wednesday that people who lose their jobs because they bucked a vaccine mandate probably aren’t eligible for unemployment assistance.
“In broad strokes, requiring somebody to be vaccinated during the midst of a worldwide pandemic is a reasonable policy,” David Gerstenfeld, acting director of the Oregon Employment Department, said on his weekly media call Wednesday.
“So, if somebody doesn’t follow that policy, and they don’t have a good reason, it very well could result in their not being eligible for benefits,” said Gerstenfeld, who is also an attorney. He said there are “narrow” exceptions for people with a medical exemption or a “sincerely held religious belief.”
That’s a much more definitive position than the department took a week ago, when it described vaccine mandates as a “rapidly evolving issue” and said it was awaiting clarity from future court rulings on benefits eligibility.
In Oregon, very few businesses require their employees to receive a COVID-19 shot. But Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has issued a succession of orders mandating vaccines for health care workers, teachers and executive branch employees.
Jobless benefits are typically available to people who lose their jobs because they’ve been laid off or fired, but not to people who quit without “good cause.” People who are fired may not be eligible, either, if they refused to comply with an employer’s reasonable policies.
The employment department said last week that it would determine eligibility on a “case by case” basis. Gerstenfeld repeated that position Wednesday, but said vaccine requirements fall into that “reasonable” classification that would preclude fired workers from claiming benefits.
“In general, if that employer has that reasonable expectation and someone could comply with it but chooses not to, they very well might not be able to get unemployment benefits if they choose not to get vaccinated,” Gerstenfeld said.