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Can you be fired for not taking the COVID-19 vaccine?

A nurse administers the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Guy's Hospital in London, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020. Many people have been sharing photos of their vaccine card in a selfie meant to celebrate receiving the shot, but the Better Business Bureau says it's a bad idea. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, Pool)

EDITORIAL NOTE: ‘Can you be fired for not taking the COVID-19 vaccine?’ is part of our continuing series, ‘The Vaccines: Hope on the Horizon.’ Each day, KSL will break down a different aspect of COVID-19 vaccine development and distribution. Listen to Utah’s Morning News at 7:45 a.m. and to Jeff Caplan’s Afternoon News at 4:45 p.m. daily for the latest. 

SALT LAKE CITY – The COVID-19 vaccine is on track to be available to the public this summer. That has many wondering whether the companies they work for will require them to get it. 

Attorney Spencer Phillips says Utah, like many places, is an “at-will” state. This means employers can fire employees for almost any reason–including refusing to get a COVID-19 vaccine. 

Can you be fired for not taking the COVID-19 vaccine?

Phillips says employers can do this, even if there was nothing in employees’ contracts before about other vaccines or medical procedures. 

It would also be very difficult to challenge this. 

“The only way we might see this eventually end up in court is if there’s a company who is refusing to make exceptions when there is a disability or religious reason for not taking a vaccine,” Phillips says. 

That’s because those two groups are protected by federal law. 

However, Phillips says many people who are fully vaccinated have serious concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine in particular. 

In that case, he encourages them to speak up.

“Explain your rationale and your reasons why you’re not comfortable taking the vaccine yet,” Phillips says. “But…it would still be in your employer’s ability to say, ‘Either you take it or you don’t have a job anymore.’ Regardless of how reasonable the reasons are that you offer for not wanting to take that vaccine.” 

Some jobs are more likely to force employees to get the vaccine than others. 

“For example, doctors and veterinarians and other kinds of people working in places that might be exposing them to various sicknesses,” Phillips says. 

Even so, he’s advising people not to force anything on their employees. 

“Look at what the [Centers for Disease Control] and the state health department are advising about…its effectiveness and any risks,” Phillips says. “I will be telling my clients, ‘This is something you may want to encourage for the health and safety of all your employees’ but not to mandate it.”    

How To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus

COVID-19 coronaviruses transmitted from person to person. It is a virus that is similar to the common cold and the flu. So, to prevent it from spreading:

  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Wear a mask.
  • Don’t touch your face.
  • Keep children and those with compromised immune systems away from someone who is coughing or sneezing (in this instance, at least six feet)
  • If there is an outbreak near you, practice social distancing (stay at home, instead of going to the movies, sports events, or other activities.)
  • Get a flu shot.

Local resources

KSL Coronavirus Q&A

Utah’s Coronavirus Information

Utah State Board of Education

Utah Hospital Association

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Utah Coronavirus Information Line – 1-800-456-7707

National Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Commonly asked questions, World Health Organization

Cases in the United States