Iowa Guarantees Unemployment Benefits for Employees Fired for Refusing COVID Vaccine

Author: David B. Weisenfeld

November 2, 2021

A new Iowa law ensures that employees fired for refusing a COVID-19 vaccine will still qualify to receive unemployment benefits. The measure, signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds on Oct. 29, is effective immediately and continues the trend of certain states pushing back against President Biden's announcement of a national strategy that will rely in part on widespread vaccine mandates for many employers.

The lowa law also allows employees to seek medical and religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

"This is a major step forward in protecting Iowans' freedoms and their abilities to make healthcare decisions based on what's best for themselves and their families," said Gov. Reynolds in a statement. "This legislation also gives employees the assurance that they will still receive unemployment benefits despite being fired for standing up for their beliefs."

However, several employers expressed concern about increased unemployment costs if thousands of workers become eligible for unemployment because they refused to be vaccinated and lost their jobs as a result. "They're trying to fix a mandate with a mandate," said the president of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry.

On the same day Iowa enacted its law, the state joined 10 other states in a lawsuit challenging President Biden's vaccine mandate for all workers employed by a federal contractor.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order in October banning all state entities, including private employers, from mandating that individuals receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Texas is among the states suing the Biden administration.

The issue of vaccine mandates may eventually reach the US Supreme Court. But the justices opted against hearing a challenge last week from health care workers in Maine who sought to block their state's COVID-19 vaccine mandate from taking effect. Maine's law does not offer a religious exemption to unvaccinated hospital and nursing home workers.