Alabama governor signs law protecting workers who aren’t vaccinated against COVID-19

Published 5:39 pm Friday, November 5, 2021

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Friday signed employment protections for workers who claim a religious or health reason for not getting vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Republican governor signed the legislation a day after it was approved by the Alabama Legislature as GOP-led states turn to lawsuits and legislation to fight the federal vaccine requirements they call an infringement on personal liberties. Ivey also signed into law a separate bill requiring parental consent for minors to get vaccinated for COVID-19.

The new law says state employers can’t fire workers for being unvaccinated against COVID-19 if the employee returns a new standardized state form to claim a religious, medical exemption.

“From the moment the White House rolled out their scare tactic plans to try to force this vaccine on Americans, I called it for what it is: an un-American, outrageous overreach. Alabamians – including those like myself who are pro-vaccine – are adamantly against this weaponization of the federal government, which is why we simply must fight this any way we know how,” Ivey said in a statement.

President Joe Biden in September announced contractors who do business with the federal government must have workforces vaccinated — with no option to test out. The Alabama law will also affect companies, such as medical providers, who wanted to independently place vaccination requirements on workers.

The bill drew opposition from the Business Council of Alabama, which said it would put federal contractors in a no-win situation. Democrats said Republicans were putting both jobs and public health in jeopardy for the sake of scoring political points.

“After supporting a bill like that, I don’t think they can say they are pro-business or pro-growth. Hopefully, the business community will remember that House Democrats support their interests,” House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels of Huntsville said.

Under the legislation, employees would check a box in a new standardized form for the reason they couldn’t get vaccinated — such as a religion, certain qualifying medical conditions or a health provider’s signed recommendation. There would be no requirement to provide proof of the reason. An employee denied an exemption can appeal to the state Department of Labor.

The new process and job protections will end automatically on May 1, 2023, unless extended by lawmakers.

The legislation is a carve-out from existing law that allows companies to fire workers at will and specifies that it wouldn’t alter the ability of an employer to terminate an employee for reasons other than the employee’s COVID-19 vaccination status.

Republicans argued that the federal government already allows exemptions for medical and religious reasons, and lawmakers are trying to provide an easy way for employees to claim those exemptions.

“They’re fearful of losing jobs they’ve had for 20 years, very good jobs that they had with federal contractors,” Republican Rep. Mike Jones of Andalusia said.

Some Democrats said the GOP proposal would create a wide-open portal for people to fraudulently claim an exemption without truly having a valid reason.

“You know and I know, everybody, even atheists, is going to come up and say it’s because of their religious beliefs,” Democratic Rep. Pebblin Warren of Tuskegee said.

Alabama has had at least 15,629 COVID-19 related deaths and has the second-highest per capita death rate from COVID-19 among states, according to researchers from Johns Hopkins University.