Date: August 2, 2021

WUSA9 spoke with TELG principal Tom Harrington about an important concern as people return to shared workplaces during the COVID-19 pandemic: If you are fired for refusing to get a company-required vaccine, can you be denied unemployment benefits? With possible exceptions for disability or religious convictions, Tom explained, the rule is the same as for defiance of any other valid company policy.

"Even [with] something as simple as a dress code, [if] you say, 'I don't believe in wearing a tie, so I'm not going to do it,' [you can be fired for] misconduct — and it would likely disqualify you from receiving unemployment benefits."

Tom Harrington


Can you be denied unemployment benefits after refusing to get a required vaccine?


IMPORTANT: COVID-19 guidelines are subject to change. For a reliable, up-to-date look at how the pandemic is affecting workplace laws and rules, our firm recommends that you review the “What You Should Know” page maintained by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.


WASHINGTON — Individuals across the United States are working to navigate this newest phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, in which vaccines are readily available but the rapidly spreading Delta variant is ravaging communities.

Vaccination rates are slowly increasing, but a Kaiser Family Foundation survey found there are still millions of Americans who would only get vaccinated against COVID-19 if it was required. Some companies, like Disney, Google and Walmart, have decided to lend a hand in pushing up vaccination rates by requiring certain employees to show proof of vaccination.

Some who refuse may be looking forward to the support of unemployment benefits while they look for a new job that doesn’t require vaccines. But, for many of them, that might not be an option.

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Someone fired for breaking a company policy, big or small, can be denied benefits, employment attorney John T. Harrington explains.

“Even something as simple as a dress code that says you have to wear a tie, and that’s the company’s policy, and you say, ‘I don’t believe in wearing a tie, so I’m not going to do it.’ That’s insubordination,” Harrington said. “It’s misconduct, and it would likely disqualify you from receiving unemployment benefits.”

If a company’s vaccination policy, and the repercussions for breaking that policy, are made clear to employees, the reason for disqualification is the same as if they had broken any other company rule.

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