Op-Ed: Last Year’s Frontline Healthcare Worker Heroes, This Year’s Unemployed

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Employers that encourage or require vaccinations, however, must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other workplace laws, according to the EEOC.
Employers that encourage or require vaccinations, however, must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other workplace laws, according to the EEOC. File photo: ShutterStock.com, licensed.

LOS ANGELES, CA  – This is not about how you feel about vaccines. This is about those promoting mandates and their ability to understand the gravity of their calls to mandate what our neighbors are doing, and its real world consequences. I respect everyone’s right to get the vaccine and to promote it even, but when it starts getting heavy handed about what others do, we need to put on the brakes. It boils down to a fundamental truth: no one can control everyone at every moment in time. And if government steps in and tries to do this, first, they’ll fail, but the overreach itself can get dangerous. North Korea dangerous. I don’t think anyone wants to be told what to do, especially when the person telling them what to do has limited information. Because while it feels good to tell your neighbor what to do in the name of feeling safe, when the tables are turned on you, it won’t feel as good.

When we stop holding the government’s behaviors accountable in a society, tyranny creeps in real fast. This week, we have heard heavy handed language from President Biden, mandating vaccines for businesses with over 100 employees and CNN cheering this move.  Ironically it is the frontline workers who we hailed as heroes last year who are most affected by these mandates. One of them is my client, Gina (name changed to protect her identity), a healthcare worker at a hospital with over 100 employees, the second largest hospital in Los Angeles. 

https://www.cnn.com/2021/09/20/politics/biden-vaccine-mandates/index.html

Gina understands our bodies are sacred and her deeply held religious beliefs and her own common sense understanding of her body and her own personal health conditions, which should remain sacred and private, have led her to an informed decision to not get vaccinated against all costs. 



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She understands our bodies are also very different from each other, after watching many patients over the years react differently to similar treatments or medicine. For example, I’m lactose intolerant but the person next to me having the same milk will be just fine. And I know I react worse with condensed milk but reduced fat 2 percent milk is just fine for me. I have learned this over the years about myself. A doctor I just met cannot make this nuanced distinction if they don’t ask me. Or if I just checked a box that I was lactose intolerant, it would simply not capture this nuance. I certainly don’t want someone who doesn’t know my body to just randomly prescribe medication to all the lactose intolerant. That would be an overreach and some may react adversely. 

This top down society of orders coming from a government intent on mandating businesses to comply with questionable practices around vaccines completely ignores nuance and individual differences. Jabbing 330 million people will require strict mandates, thereby removing the individual choice and providing a catch-all solution. It ignores the inconvenient reality that some people have had adverse reactions to the vaccine, resulting in chronic health issues or death. It also ignores the fact that over 99 percent survive, but that’s another discussion.

These mandates have now trickled down to Gina, a Filipino American healthcare worker, working on the frontlines. After some back and forth, it is clear that Gina is first on the cutting block because despite her deeply held religious beliefs prevent her from taking the shot and despite a well reasoned case for an exemption, she will be losing her job. This, despite the fact that she’s been working unjabbed through the worst of the pandemic last year and this year.

Gina says “This entire ordeal has really drained me. All employees are mandated to be vaccinated or face termination. We were given an option to request a Medical or Religious exemption. I was denied 3 times. The truth finally came out when my manager said there was a clear disconnect between me and HR. No exemptions were going to be granted, period. Why give me an empty exemption option if they will not honor it or even read my case?”

In addition, her employer has now lied to her several times, telling her initially that the deadline was October 30th. Then it was moved to September 30th. Last week they told her that her only option left was the J&J vaccine but she needed to do it by September 21st because all California J&J vaccines will be expiring. She went to CVS pharmacy and they laughed, saying this was not true. Looks like, in addition to the mandate, there is a rush factor and lying (or at the very least, misinformation) is justified to hurry the employees up. 

Employers that encourage or require vaccinations, however, must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other workplace laws, according to the EEOC.

“An employee with a religious objection or a disability may need to be excused from the mandate or otherwise accommodated,” says John Lomax, a Phoenix based attorney. “Additionally, if an objecting employee is a union-represented employee, the employer may need to bargain and reach an agreement with the union before mandating vaccines.”

While there are rules in place and an employer must make reasonable accommodations, it is the healthcare workers hailed as heroes last year, that are first to experience the most rigid of definitions, as the big organization can easily say “well, you’re working directly with patients. We can’t make those accommodations or honor exemptions”.  Meanwhile, even SEIU and the postal workers unions have pushed back and got their exemptions. Many of these workers are just as front facing as healthcare workers.

According to the EEOC, “If an employee who cannot be vaccinated poses a direct threat to the workplace, the employer must consider whether a reasonable accommodation can be made, such as allowing the employee to work remotely or take a leave of absence.”

Gina had been working remotely for a year, doing telehealth for her patients. Yet now there is a sudden rigidity and she’s out with no real effort at accommodation. At this point, she will be working with EEOC to sue her employer and her family will have one less breadwinner, as they struggle to make ends meet. So much for hailing our heroes like Gina last year. This year, no good deed goes unpunished.

Ultimately, shouldn’t we as individuals who know our body best, be able to make that choice? That choice is sacred. My body, my choice. Shouldn’t we care about individual differences and don’t individuals know their body best? And if we really care about the healthcare frontliners we hailed as heroes last year, shouldn’t we make reasonable accommodations to respect their religious and medical exemptions? This heavy handedness to try to get everyone vaccinated sets a dangerous precedent  And here’s a dirty secret: you will still not likely eradicate COVID with 100 percent vaccinations, as new variants will develop.  Choice is sacred and American. Let’s stop throwing away our freedoms in the name of safety, or mandating what others do because we truly cannot control others. Gina deserves better.

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