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Horton Law Firm Blog Vaccine Mandate: Can SC Employees Be Terminated for Refusing the COVID 19 Vaccine?

Vaccine Mandate: Can SC Employees Be Terminated for Refusing the COVID 19 Vaccine?
Several large South Carolina companies have issued new COVID 19 vaccine mandate policies, and I’ve seen some concerns raised on social media. I’m about to do the improbable for an attorney and not charge you for the following generally applicable information regarding COVID vaccine mandates. (I mean, I still charge my son my regular hourly rate whenever he complains about the cruel and inhuman labor conditions imposed by his momma related to the cleaning up of his own messes, so consider yourselves doubly blessed.)
(Note: I wrote back in April 2021 about this same issue, and since that time, the EEOC has issued new guidance that supports companies in the implementation of vaccine mandates.)
Yes, Companies Can Require South Carolina Employees to Receive the COVID 19 Vaccine as a Condition for Work
Employers are legally permitted to require that their employees be vaccinated, both for standard vaccinations and for the COVID-19 vaccine. Most employers have not gone that route, preferring instead to encourage or incentivize their employees to get the vaccine. But given the recent surge of cases among the unvaccinated, many larger employers such as Walmart, Apple, and United Airlines have recently begun requiring vaccines as a condition of employment, and those that refuse will be required to wear masks and take regular COVID tests (or, per some policies, be terminated). For example, Prisma Health is requiring all unvaccinated employees to wear masks and other protective equipment when meeting with patients. Other health systems in South Carolina, however, have gone with a full vaccine mandate for all employees.
Such a requirement is legal, and employers are allowed to require proof of vaccination, such as a vaccination card, from their employees. Requiring proof of vaccination does not violate any privacy laws, such as HIPAA.
Religious Exemptions and Exemptions Based on Disabilities are the Few Allowed Exceptions
There are some exceptions to the mandate, including exemptions for religious reasons and for disabilities (medical conditions that make vaccines dangerous to the specific employee, for example), but these exemptions will not be available to most people. If you have specific requests related to possible exemptions, that information can be submitted to your company’s HR department as part of an exemption request. For example, any requests for an exemption based on a disability will need to be supported by your doctor and relevant paperwork. If a valid exemption issue has been raised and also denied, you can reach out to a local employment lawyer for further legal advice about your specific situation.
Takeaways for South Carolina Employees Regarding Vaccine Mandates
But generally speaking, most employees in South Carolina with a vaccine-mandating company will either have to be vaccinated or else follow the masking/testing alternatives pursuant to company policy. Termination may be a consequence of a failure to follow these policies, if required by the policy, and if you are terminated for failing to follow a lawful policy, then you may be denied unemployment benefits as well.

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