The lawmaker who sponsored legislation to introduce religious and medical exemption forms for COVID-19 vaccines said the forms have been working exactly as intended in the first few weeks.
Sen Chris Elliott, R-Fairhope , said there have already been about 30,000 downloads of the forms, which became available around the time of Thanksgiving.
“It’s working very well,” Elliott said. “I’ve had folks tell me they were going to be terminated due to their vaccine status and they told their employer this was the new law, so their employer reversed their decision. There have been only 31 appeals filed as of yesterday; 21 of those have already been processed and only four have been denied.”
The Alabama Department of Labor was tasked with making the forms available to employers and has set up a website for employers and employees to download the forms and get more information.
Tara Hutchison, ADOL communications director, said the department emailed employers they had email addresses for and also worked with business groups such as the Business Council of Alabama, National Federation of Independent Business, Society for Human Resource Management and others to notify employers of the new forms.
All employers who are mandating COVID-19 vaccinations as a condition of employment are required to provide access to the forms.
For employers that haven’t been reached directly by ADOL or through business groups, Elliott said it has also worked through employees who research the law and make their employers aware of the change.
Elliott said it’s impossible to track how many exemptions have been granted in the state, as businesses are not required to report that they have granted an exemption.
“There have been 30,000 downloads and one download could be for an employer sending it out to 100 employees as well,” Elliott said. “The point is it is required for companies to provide this form. It is clearly being used. Stands to reason with the appeal numbers as low as they are, the exemptions are being granted. This is exactly how this was supposed to work.”
Elliott said he believes the employees are sincerely using the forms for “a deeply held religious belief or some kind of medical issue,” although most of the exemptions can be checked off without any kind of proof or validation. He noted that there are people who have a political opposition to the vaccines, but said this form is not for them.
“To me, they’re making a political statement more than anything,” Elliott said. “There’s a path for you that is effective. This law doesn’t cover that.”
If an employer does deny the employee’s exemption, the employee can appeal the decision to an administrative law judge specifically assigned to handle appeals. The only burden of proof on the employee is a correctly filled out exemption form.
Elliott said the four denied appeals so far have been either the wrong form or not filled out correctly. He said he was aware of only one situation in which the employer stated his intent to continue with the employee’s termination despite the ruling, and that the employee was planning to appeal that decision in court, where he expects a favorable outcome for the employee.
An employer who has denied an employee’s request may not terminate the employee on the basis of failing to receive a vaccination for a period of seven calendar days after the denial is issued by the employer, or if a request for review was made, until the administrative law judge or the court issues a final ruling in the employer’s favor.
If denied, the employer provides the employee with instructions on how to request an administrative review and must compensate the employee at the same rate of compensation the employee received prior to submitting an exemption form, for a period of seven calendar days after the denial was issued by the employer, or if a request for review is made, until the administrative law judge issues a ruling in the employer’s favor (no more than 30 additional calendar days). While the decision to keep an employee physically on the job during this period is at the discretion of the employer, compliance regarding compensation is mandatory.
Employee submits the denied form to the administrative law judge for review via vaxexemption.alabama.gov. The administrative law judge will issue a ruling within 30 days and will notify both the employee and employer of the decision via email.
Once an application for review is received, a notice will be sent to the employer (via email*) notifying them that a request for review has been filed. The employer will then have three business days to provide any pertinent information to the administrative law judge for consideration regarding an employee’s exemption claim.