LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — As Governor Asa Hutchinson continues to urge more Arkansans to get their vaccine -- it's raised more questions by employees concerned that their decision to not get the shot could put their job in jeopardy.
A viewer asked, "Is it against the law or unlawful for an employer in our state to fire their employee just for the sole issue of refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine?"
For the answer, we turned to our source Abtin Mehdizadegan, a law partner with Cross, Gunter, Witherspoon & Galchus.
"If the question is about a public employer, and what I mean by that is the state or a political subdivision, there's recent legislation enacted on April 28th of this year— Act 977— that prohibits state agencies and their political subdivisions from mandating COVID-19 vaccinations," Mehdizadegan said.
That's the simple answer to the question if you're a public employer – but it's a lot more complicated if you're a private employer.
"The general answer to your question is no, there's nothing impermissible about a private employer terminating an employee solely because they refused a COVID-19 vaccine."
Mehdizadegan said there are two exceptions.
Discrimination against an employee for religion or disability.
"We're an employment-at-will jurisdiction which means the employer and employee can terminate the employment contract at-will for good reason, bad reason, no reason at all. As long as it's not a discriminatory reason. And that's where the exceptions come into play," Mehdizadegan said.
So we can verify – a public employer is prohibited from making the COVID-19 mandatory. But if you work for a private company, there is no basis under Arkansas law that prohibits the employer from making the vaccine a requirement.
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