The Growing Dilemma: Can Jobs Require Employees To Get The COVID-19 Vaccine?

Wednesday, July 28th 2021, 10:25 pm
By: News 9

Thursday, President Biden is expected to announce all federal employees will be required to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or face regular testing and mitigation mandates.

The federal government is the largest employer in Oklahoma. Some other businesses in our state are mandating vaccinations or you will lose your job.

“It was just kind of like, ‘Can they do this to me? Can they fire me?” Izabella Krack said.

She is among the 45% of eligible Oklahomans who, for one reason or another, has not gotten the COVID-19 vaccine. And that's something her boss took issue with.

“We got a document that day saying if you don’t get the vaccination by April 15th, then you’re going to be terminated,” Krack said.

That's exactly what happened. She doesn't want to name the company but said it was a warehouse job for a T-shirt company.

“At least as far as it appears there’s a good argument to be made than an employer can mandate vaccinations for employees,” labor and employment issues attorney Adam Childers said.

He said a lawsuit out of Houston seems to reinforce that. A hospital system there required employees to get the vaccine. A group of workers sued. But every argument made got thrown out. And while that ruling doesn't stop a lawsuit like it from being filed in Oklahoma. Childers said it is something to consider.

“It’s a controversial subject and of course this has an element that is different than what you were, but also think of the direct impact it’s having on the company’s ability to do its business,” Childers said.

“First and foremost, we feel an obligation to our patients to provide a safe environment for them. We also feel we have an obligation to provide a safe environment to all our employees and for the state in general. I think it’s the right thing to do,” Dr. James Kirk, infectious disease specialist with SSM Health St. Anthony said.

SSM Health St. Anthony was the first Oklahoma health care system to announce it will mandate most employees get the vaccine come September. News 9 checked the other big health care systems in the state.

Mercy and OU Health will also require the vaccine. Integris and Norman Regional will not.

As for other big employers in Oklahoma: there will be no mandates for employees of the state or the City of OKC. Hobby Lobby is also a no mandate workplace. And while Amazon - isn't requiring it - they're offering bonuses to those who choose to get vaccinated. 

“Even with a mandatory policy, you need exceptions for those religious beliefs and disabled medically to avoid it,” Childers said. “Are there ways to incentivize our workforce but stop short of doing something to polarize the workforce or create hard feelings from those who think it’s a stop to far?”

Which brings us back to Izabella. And other workers who don't want to take the vaccine.

“Taking a stand might be important to them,” Childers said. “And I certainly wouldn’t tell anybody what to do or not to do but sometimes your career and ability to feed your family and sustain your livelihood are important enough that you just decide that you’re going to do what the workforce requires.”