In a push-back to the federal government’s recently enacted Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) which requires employers with more than 100 employees to implement a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination or testing policy, Utah’s Legislature passed its own statute on employer vaccination mandates. Under this new statute, which, as of the date of this article, has not yet been signed by Governor Cox, employers are required to “relieve” employees or prospective employees of a COVID-19 vaccination mandate if the employee or prospective employee presents “a statement” that receiving a COVID-19 vaccine would: 

  • Be injurious to the health and well-being of the employee or prospective employee;
  • Conflict with a sincerely held religious belief, practice or observance of the employee or prospective employee; or
  • Conflict with a sincerely-held personal belief of the employee or prospective employee 

The statute also requires employers to pay for COVID-19 workplace testing and prohibits employers from taking an adverse action against an employee who requests one of the forms of “relief” against taking the vaccine. An “adverse action” includes termination of employment or refusal to hire. An adverse action does not include, however, reassignment or termination if reassignment is “not practical.” The statute does not specify precisely what is required in the employee “statement,” and does not provide any definition of, or apparent restriction on, what constitutes a sufficient “personal belief” other than that it be “sincerely held.”  

Importantly, the statutory exemptions to vaccine mandates do not apply to employers with fewer than 15 employees that are able to establish “a nexus” between a vaccination mandate and an employee’s “assigned duties and responsibilities.” The statute is unclear as to whether such employers are also excused from the requirement of paying for COVID-19 tests. 

It is uncertain how this statute will be interpreted or enforced. The statute clearly conflicts with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s ETS. Ultimately, courts will have to decide which rule applies in Utah. In the meantime, employers should consult with their employment counsel to discuss development of vaccination plans for their work forces.

For more information about this or other employment and labor issues, contact Sean Monson or Mark Wagner by calling (801) 532-1234 or send an email to smonson@parsonsbehle.com or mwagner@parsonsbehle.com

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