Utah’s workplace COVID vaccine exemption bill becomes law

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FILE – In this Dec. 24, 2020, file photo, a COVID-19 vaccination record card is shown at Seton Medical Center in Daly City, Calif. Los Angeles leaders are poised to enact one of the nation’s strictest vaccine mandates, a sweeping measure that would require the shots for everyone entering a bar, restaurant, nail salon, gym or even a Lakers game. The City Council on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021, is scheduled to consider the proposal and most members have said they support it as a way of preventing further COVID-019 surges. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Utah workers now, legally, can seek an exemption from their employer’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate after Governor Spencer Cox put pen to paper Tuesday.

Senate Bill 2004, sponsored by Sen. Kirk Cullimore (R-Salt Lake County), not only requires employers to permit vaccination mandate exemptions and prevents them from “adverse action” against those without the vaccine, but requires employers to pay for on-site COVID-19 workplace testing.

During the special session, Utah lawmakers added that an employer cannot keep or maintain a record or copy of an employee’s proof of vaccination, except under certain conditions. Except employers include Medicare- or Medicaid-certified providers or suppliers subject to regulation by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services regarding the COVID-19 vaccine and federal contractors.

Under the now-law, an employer can require an employee or prospective employee to receive or show proof of COVID-19 vaccine without an exception if they employ less than 15 employees and “establishes a nexus between the requirement and the employee’s assigned duties and responsibilities.”

Eligible vaccine exemptions include:

  • If getting the COVID-19 vaccine would be “injurious to the health and well-being” of the individual
  • It conflicts with “a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance”
  • It conflicts with “a sincerely held belief”

An employee or prospective employee would need to submit a statement to the employer outlining why they should be exempt based on one of the above.

The bill passed the House on a 55-17-2 vote and the Senate with a 24-5 vote. This is one of 12 bills Governor Cox has signed out of the 2021 Special Legislative Session, with 10 being signed on Tuesday.

Utah has joined multiple lawsuits over President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandates for large employers, including the most recent that focuses on health care workers. Attorney General Sean Reyes says the mandate on facilities that receive federal funding for treating patients exceeds the agency’s statutory authority and violates the Social Security Act’s prohibition on regulations that control the hiring and firing of health care workers.

“The Vaccine Mandate causes grave danger to vulnerable persons whom Medicare and Medicaid were designed to protect – the poor, sick, and elderly – by forcing the termination of millions of ‘healthcare heroes’ who are essential to providing healthcare services,” the complaint reads.

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