Iowa Enacts a New Law on Employer Vaccination Mandates and Unemployment Insurance

On October 29, 2021, Iowa passed and enacted House File 902 which establishes new requirements for employers mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for their employees.  The new law also affects unemployment benefits for employees who are discharged for refusing to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.  In reviewing the summary below, keep in mind that the law includes applicants for employment within the definition of employee.

Most notably, the new law allows employees to avoid complying with an employer’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate for asserted health or religious reasons.  The new law states that an employer that requires an employee to receive a COVID-19 vaccine must waive the requirement if the employee (or the employee’s parent or guardian if the employee is a minor) requests a waiver.  The employee must submit his or her waiver with a statement representing that (1) receiving the vaccine would be injurious to the health and well-being of the employee or an individual residing with the employee or (2) receiving the vaccine would conflict with the tenets and practices of a religion the employee adheres to.  The new law does not establish any specific penalties for employers who violate it, but it will likely give employees a basis to seek damages or other relief in court.

The new law also takes steps to abate any effects on unemployment insurance benefits that may result.  The new law states that if an employee is discharged for refusing to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, that employee cannot be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits.  Further, the unemployment insurance contribution rate and unemployment experience of any subsequent or former employer of the discharged employee (aside from the discharging employer) will be unaffected by the discharge.  In other words, the Iowa Department of Workforce Development cannot impose any penalty or take any action against any employer other than the discharging employer based on the discharged employee’s refusal to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Note too that application of this new law is complicated by the emergency temporary standard (“ETS”) issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) on November 4, 2021.  It may be prudent to seek out guidance in navigating compliance with both requirements.

At BrownWinick, we strive to keep you up-to-date on changes in the law related to the COVID-19 pandemic so that you can manage your business with confidence.  The changes discussed here may affect what vaccinations requirements you enact at your business, how you protect your workplace against COVID-19, and how you manage your employees.  When questions arise about these issues, our team is always happy to provide answers and helpful solutions.

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