The Oregon Employment Department announced this week that those who lose their jobs over a vaccine mandate might not be eligible for any unemployment assistance from the government. The department's acting director, David Gerstenfeld made the announcement during his weekly media call on Wednesday.
"In broad strokes, requiring somebody to be vaccinated during the midst of a worldwide pandemic is a reasonable policy," Gerstenfeld, who is also an attorney, said, as reported by Oregon Live. "So, if somebody doesn't follow that policy, and they don't have a good reason, it very well could result in their not being eligible for benefits."
Gerstenfeld said, however, that there will be "narrow" exceptions for those with medical conditions or a "sincerely held religious belief."
Previously, the department said that vaccine mandates are a "rapidly evolving issue" and that they were awaiting clarification from future court rulings on unemployment benefits eligibility.
Only a few businesses in Oregon have implemented COVID vaccine mandates for their employees. The Associated Press reported that Gov. Kate Brown announced this month that the state was expanding its COVID vaccine requirement to include all teachers, educators, support staff and volunteers in K-12 schools. The mandate required these workers to be fully vaccinated by October 18.
According to WND, unemployment assistance and other jobless benefits are often available to those who have been laid off or fired, but not those who refuse to go back to work without "good cause." Those who are fired will not be eligible as well if they refused compliance to their employer's "reasonable policies." Gerstenfeld stressed that while the employment department will determine eligibility on a "case by case" basis, it believes that vaccine mandates fall into the "reasonable" classification that would preclude those who were fired from receiving benefits.
"In general, if that employer has that reasonable expectation and someone could comply with it but chooses not to, they very well might not be able to get unemployment benefits if they choose not to get vaccinated," Gerstenfeld said.
This week, Gov. Brown fired back against public officials who were rallying to ban the vaccine mandates. She stood firm and said she would not retract her vaccine mandate on health care workers, school employees, and state workers, KGW8 reported.
The Oregon governor also challenged local officials, saying that she has not received any plans from rural counties to contain COVID's rapidly spreading delta variant despite calls from rural legislators, county commissioners and other local officials to leave legislation to local communities.
One of her critics is Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin, who said the mask mandates were "reckless" and that the governor "ignores the abilities of our local leadership." Gov. Brown lamented that they are having to "spend hundreds of millions of dollars to ensure health care" for those who refuse to get the COVID vaccine.
The Oregon governor reiterated that masks and vaccines are "two simple and effective tools" to fight the pandemic. She argued that citizens must "take personal responsibility to protect others around them."
Gov. Brown concluded, "I am focused on solving a public health crisis, not a political problem."