Each day more employers are telling employees they need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to work in person or risk being fired.
On Thursday, CNN revealed it had fired three unvaccinated employees for violating the company’s vaccine requirement for in-person workers, according to an internal memo signed by Jeff Zucker, the cable network’s president, and obtained by the New York Times.
Unlike millions of Americans who were laid off during the pandemic, the three former CNN employees likely won’t qualify for unemployment benefits, employment law experts told MarketWatch.
CNN parent company WarnerMedia, a unit of AT&T T, 0.20%, declined to comment on the firings.
In most states, individuals have to prove they’re out of work through no fault of their own to collect unemployment benefits.
“This often means that they are let go due to a lack of work,” said Alana Ackels, a labor and employment lawyer at Bell Nunnally, a Dallas-based law firm.
“Typically, an employee who is terminated for failing to comply with company policies is not eligible for unemployment benefits, which would include refusing to comply with a company’s COVID-19 prevention policies, masking requirements or vaccine requirements,” Ackels told MarketWatch.
But an employee who has proof of a medical exemption or religious objection to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine may still be eligible to collect unemployment benefits if fired, said Rebecca Dixon, executive director at the National Employment Law Project, a nonprofit that advocates for worker’s rights.
Otherwise, refusing to get a COVID-19 vaccine, if your employer requires one, “is akin to an employee’s refusal to submit to permissible drug tests or participate in safety trainings,” said Ronald Zambrano, employment law chair at West Coast Trial Lawyers, a Los Angeles–based law firm. That is, such an employee, when terminated, would not qualify for unemployment benefits, Zambrano said.
Ultimately, “this could lead to tens of thousands of people across the United States without work or access to unemployment benefits because they refuse to get vaccinated,” Zambrano said.