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Arkansas bill to create Unemployment benefits for fired unvaccinated employees

Legislation is being created to help the unvaccinated remain employed and COVID-19 vaccine free as business deadlines approach.

ARKANSAS, USA — Employees at some Arkansas businesses could lose their jobs for not getting the COVID-19 vaccine but some lawmakers are looking at protecting those employees.

“I think it’s important because the federal government has overreached into the private sector. Both on the employee side and on the employer’s side,” said Arkansas Republican Senator Kim Hammer.

Senator Hammer is slamming President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for businesses with 100 employees or more to get vaccinated. However, a committee bill in the Senate is looking to fight against it.

“He’s going to provide a pathway forward for those who don’t want to get vaccinated. There’s now going to be an established process that I can have the protection in order to prevent them from being fired,” Senator Hammer said.

Looking at options to opt-out, such as employees providing a weekly negative COVID-19 test or proving to their employers that they have natural antibodies from COVID.

“In order for employees who do not want to be vaccinated to the have the ability to still maintain a safe working environment but not necessarily have received the vaccine,” said Senator Hammer.

The committees in the Senate are also looking at requiring the state to give terminated employees unemployment benefits which is something the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce says does not apply here.

“Unemployment is for people who, for no fault of their own lose their job,” said Randy Zook President and CEO of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce.

Zook says those fired for not getting the COVID-19 vaccine should not be able to get unemployment benefits.

“This is an employee deciding not to comply with reasonable requirements by the business to protect their other employees as well as customers,” Zook said.

However, Senator Hammer is looking to get this bill passed out of committee and onto the governor’s desk as soon as possible, saying this is the right thing to do and won’t cost the state.

“No tax increase and there’s actually built into the unemployment trust fund a buffer that employers pay into right now that would be kind of like a reserve," said Senator Hammer. 

Zook, however, is saying this is something the state should not allow and that it all falls back on the employer because they pay for the unemployment benefits.

Mercy Hospital says most of its employees have been vaccinated but there is a small percentage who have not and face suspension.

Other businesses approaching a vaccine deadline for employees include Walmart, Tyson, and Washington Regional.

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