The Growing Dilemma: Can Jobs Require Employees To Get The COVID-19 Vaccine?

Wednesday, August 4th 2021, 10:17 pm

TULSA, Oklahoma -

Oklahoma is experiencing another spike in COVID-19 cases. As the virus spreads, some businesses are requiring employees to get vaccinated - or lose your job.

“It was just kind of like, ‘Can they do this to me? Can they fire me?” Izabella Krack said.

Krack is among the 45% of eligible Oklahomans who, for one reason or another, has not gotten the COVID-19 vaccine. And that's something her boss took issue with.

“We got a document that day saying if you don’t get the vaccination by April 15th, then you’re going to be terminated,” Krack said.

That's exactly what happened. She doesn't want to name the company but said it was a warehouse job for a T-shirt company.

“At least, as far as it appears, there’s a good argument to be made than an employer can mandate vaccinations for employees,” labor and employment issues attorney Adam Childers said.

Childers said a lawsuit out of Houston seems to reinforce that. A hospital system there required employees to get the vaccine. A group of workers sued, but every argument made got thrown out. While that ruling doesn't stop a lawsuit like it from being filed in Oklahoma, Childers said it is something to consider.

“It’s a controversial subject and of course this has an element that is different, but also think of the direct impact it’s having on the company’s ability to do its business,” Childers said.

Ascension Saint John is the first Tulsa hospital to announce it'll require all its employees to get the vaccine by November 12, joining other health systems like Saint Anthony in Oklahoma City in requiring the shot for workers.

“First and foremost, we feel an obligation to our patients to provide a safe environment for them. We also feel we have an obligation to provide a safe environment to all our employees and for the state in general. I think it’s the right thing to do,” Dr. James Kirk, infectious disease specialist with SSM Health St. Anthony said.

News On 6 checked the other big healthcare systems in the area. As of now, Saint Francis, Hillcrest and OSU Medical Center will not require workers to get the vaccine.

As for other big employers in Oklahoma: there will be no mandates for employees of the State or the City of Tulsa. American Airlines, the FAA, and QuikTrip are also no-mandate workplaces. While Amazon isn't requiring it, they're offering bonuses to those who choose to get vaccinated. 

“Even with a mandatory policy, you need exceptions for those religious beliefs and disabled medically to avoid it,” Childers said. “Are there ways to incentivize our workforce but stop short of doing something to polarize the workforce or create hard feelings from those who think it’s a step too far?”

Which brings us back to Izabella Krack, and other workers who don't want to take the vaccine.

“Taking a stand might be important to them,” Childers said. “And I certainly wouldn’t tell anybody what to do or not to do, but sometimes your career and ability to feed your family and sustain your livelihood are important enough that you just decide that you’re going to do what the workforce requires.”