On March 13th, the Arizona House Health and Human Services Committee passed a Senate bill that would require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees who complete religious exemption forms to opt-out of receiving vaccines, including COVID-19, influenza, or any vaccine authorized for emergency use under the US Food and Drug Administration. Senate Bill 1250 passed by a vote of 5-4, and had also previously passed through the Senate.
“This is not about COVID-19,” bill sponsor Sen. Janae Shamp (R – Maricopa) said. “What this bill is for is to get rid of the subjectivity surrounding religious exemptions, personal beliefs, and observances.”
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The bill would prohibit employers from discriminating against their employees based on vaccination status. Under the bill, those who are not offered or who are denied religious exemptions may file complaints with the attorney general, who would be authorized to investigate allegations and issue civil penalties of $5,000 within 10 days to employers who are not in compliance.
Tom Farley was present to represent the Health System Alliance of Arizona and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, and was neutral on the bill. He expressed how both groups were originally opposed to the proposed bill, and it took numerous meetings with Shamp to work on amendments to get the groups in a neutral position.
“…after the amendment you guys had worked out, how does [this bill] affect the hospital systems?” Rep. Amish Shah (D – Gilbert) asked.
Farley explained how a question form was developed for employers to ask upfront questions, and if they want to continue inquiring about an employee’s religious exemption they have to do so within the confines of federal law under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
“Passions around the subject area were, and are, pretty intense in what is a religiously held belief and what is the case law around that,” Farley said.
Shah brought up how he works for Mayo Clinic, which sees a heavy skew towards a group of people who are immunocompromised. He specifically brought up how transplant patients and oncology patients are at high risk of infection, and how religious exemptions for vaccines would impact the care for the patients.
According to Farley, hospitals would have to figure out accommodations for those with a religious exemption, which may mean moving employees around to different departments. Accommodations may be provided unless it becomes an undue hardship.