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Iowa workers fired for refusing COVID vaccine still eligible for unemployment benefits under new bill

Unvaccinated workers may not get unemployment
Workers fired over vaccine status likely ineligible for unemployment aid 04:35

Iowa residents terminated from their jobs for not following an employer's vaccine mandate can still receive unemployment benefits under a new law signed by Governor Kim Reynolds on Friday. The state legislature passed the bill a day earlier.

"I am proud to sign this bipartisan piece of legislation today," Reynolds said in a statement Friday. "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. This legislation also gives employees the assurance that they will still receive unemployment benefits despite being fired for standing up for their beliefs."

Along with ensuring unemployment benefits for employees fired for refusing a COVID-19 vaccine, the bill also allows Iowa workers to waive a vaccine mandate from their employer if they provide a statement proving that the vaccine would negatively affect their health or the health of someone who lives with them. If workers in the state submit a statement proving that the vaccine would go against their religion, they could receive a waiver for an employer's vaccine mandate as well. 

"As I've stated publicly numerous times, I believe the vaccine is the best defense against COVID-19 and we've provided Iowans with the information they need to determine what's best for themselves and their families, but no Iowan should be forced to lose their job or livelihood over the COVID-19 vaccine," Reynolds said. 

The Iowa Association of Business and Industry opposed the bill, saying that it "now puts employers at risk of possibly facing federal penalties" and that it is "counterproductive" to Iowa's urgent need of a robust workforce.

"ABI continues to strongly urge all Iowans to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and rejects this rushed decision by Iowa lawmakers to institute a blanket policy that is counter to an individual employer's right to decide what works best for their workplace," the business organization said in a statement Friday.

In July, the Biden administration rolled out vaccination requirements for employees of the federal government and urged private businesses to push for vaccination among employees as well. 

"We know these requirements work," the White House said, citing businesses like Tyson Foods and United Airlines who have increased vaccination numbers among their employees after implementing mandates. 

But the governor on Friday said that the vaccine exemption bill "is only the first step."

"We will be taking other legal actions against the Biden Administration's vaccine mandate," she said. 

Also on Friday, Iowa joined nine other states in a federal lawsuit challenging Mr. Biden's vaccine mandate for federal employees, claiming in a complaint that the requirement is "unlawful."

"I believe the vaccine is the best defense against COVID-19, but no one should be forced to choose between making a living or standing up for their personal beliefs," Reynolds said in a statement. "As long as I am governor, the State of Iowa will always stand alongside Iowans and to be sure their freedoms are protected."

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