Lawmakers narrowly passed a bill this month that would allow people fired for refusing a COVID-19 vaccine to receive unemployment benefits if no other wrongdoing occurred.

The measure was advanced by the House of Delegates with a vote of 51 to 48 and was referred to a Senate committee on February 10.

The bill was one of many introduced by Republicans this session to protect and defend workers who do not want to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Of the. Kathy J. Byron, R-Forest, introduced House Bill 1201 to protect the unvaccinated from potential discrimination. The bill adds a line to the current unemployment misconduct law stating that refusing to receive a COVID-19 vaccine does not prevent someone from getting unemployment benefits.

Byron said his bill was not an endorsement for or against the vaccine. She is a supporter of the COVID-19 vaccine but said vaccination is a personal choice.

“There are many reasons why people refused to take it, for religious reasons and others,” Byron said at a subcommittee meeting in February.

The bill preserves a worker’s right to make decisions about their own health, Byron said. However, she said the legislation does not prevent employers from requiring employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

“They’re not deliberately laid off so they can go home and collect unemployment,” Byron said. “We have to make sure they have the opportunity to have benefits until they find another position.”

There is currently no explicit ruling on whether denying a COVID-19 vaccine without reason qualifies as misconduct, according to Norfolk-based labor attorney John M. Bredehoft.

Reasons for refusing the vaccine include medical injury, disability or “sincere religious objection”, he said.

“Knowing what the rule is has definite value regardless of what the rule would be,” Bredehoft said.

Typically, if someone is fired, they get unemployment benefits and if they quit, they don’t get benefits, Bredehoft said. However, the bill is not clear enough, Bredehoft said.

” Let’s be clear. No one is fired for refusing to get vaccinated – period,” Bredehoft said. “People are being fired for refusing to get vaccinated when the company has a policy requiring them to be vaccinated.”

Nicole Riley, Virginia director for the National Federation of Independent Businesses, spoke in favor of the bill at the subcommittee meeting. She said Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin also supports the bill.

Virginians have received more than 15 million doses of various COVID-19 vaccines, and 71% of the population is fully vaccinated, according to the Virginia Department of Health. More than 80% of the adult population aged 18 and over is fully immunized. A person is considered fully vaccinated with HDV when they have received one dose of a single-dose vaccine and both doses of a two-dose vaccine.

Of the. Don L. Scott, D-Portsmouth, was the only person to interview Byron during the subcommittee meeting. No delegates asked questions at subsequent meetings. Scott confirmed with Byron that Youngkin’s administration supports giving unemployment benefits to those who were fired for refusing a COVID-19 vaccine.

The Senate Trade and Labor Committee is expected to read the bill and meet on Monday. The bill is one of more than 70 House items pending committee action.

By Katharine DeRosa
Capital News Service

Capital News Service is a program of the Robertson School of Media and Culture at Virginia Commonwealth University. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.