Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has signed into law a bill that extends the protection of employees subject to the employer’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
The new law supplements existing state law prohibiting private employers and other entities from forcing or otherwise taking “adverse actions” against a person to compel the person to provide evidence of vaccination if the person refuses to receive a COVID-19 vaccine “for any reason”; . ” The law defines “adverse act” to include refusing employment or dismissing, threatening or otherwise discriminating against an employee “in any way that affects the employee’s employment, including compensation, terms, conditions, placements, rights, immunities, promotions or privileges. ” The existing law gives applicants and employees the right to seek injunctions and demand compensation and reasonable attorneys’ fees for violations.
With effect from 11 March 2022 new Tennessee law provides that “[a]n an employer who requires a person to provide proof of vaccination or requires a person to receive the COVID-19 vaccine must grant the person a dispensation from the policy if: (1) the person provides a valid reason for a medical exemption supported by a statement that has been signed and dated by an authorized health care provider; or (2) the person declares that the person has a religious belief that prevents the person from complying with the policy. “For an exception based on religious belief, the law prohibits the employer from requiring a person to provide additional evidence beyond their original statement in order to In particular, unlike federal law, there is nothing in this new law that allows employers to deny such waiver requests because the waiver would cause unnecessary difficulty for the employer or otherwise pose a direct threat to the employee, or others in the workplace.
Employers are also required to provide a response to requests for a waiver within two (2) business days and may not reject a request without a written explanation explaining why the request was denied. The law also prohibits employers from dismissing, threatening to dismiss or reducing the compensation of a person who requests and receives a dispensation.
Violations of the new law can be punished with a civil fine of $ 10,000.
© 2022 Proskauer Rose LLP. National Law Review, Volume XII, Number 75