SB Wednesday: controversy concerning vaccine mandates in West Virginia

Melinda Zosh and John O'Neal meet to discuss vaccine mandates and their impact on small...
Melinda Zosh and John O'Neal meet to discuss vaccine mandates and their impact on small businesses.(WVVA News)
Published: Nov. 8, 2021 at 5:38 PM EST
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BLUEFIELD, W.Va. (WVVA) - WVVA is helping to answer your questions about small business and personal finance. Every Wed. at 5 p.m., the Executive Director of the Development Authority of Mercer County, John O’Neal, is helping to answer questions for viewers.

WVVA: John, there seems to be a great deal of news this week out of Washington related to jobs, finance, and the economy. What are the key issues of concern to small business?

O’Neal: The Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, the $3.5 Trillion Budget Bill, and the Debt Ceiling Bill have been punted down the road for a couple of months due to temporary extensions negotiated between the parties in Congress.

The current issues of concern to small business and workers include surging inflation, labor shortages, and federal employer vaccine mandates. We will discuss inflation and labor shortages in coming weeks. Today the topic of immediate concern is employer vaccination mandates.

WVVA: John, please remind our viewers of where things stand with employer vaccine mandates? Is this something new?

O’Neal: American businesses have always enjoyed wide latitude when it comes to workplace policies. Dress codes, behavior codes, health codes, etc. are legal with certain accommodations for employees rights.

Recently some employers have begun imposing COVID vaccine requirements as a condition of employment. This trend began after President Biden announced that he was issuing an Executive Order that all federal employees and contractors must be vaccinated. He also announced that he has directed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to write rules that would require private sector employers with more than 100 employees to mandate Coronavirus vaccinations.

OSHA is working on the rules for employers. There is supposed to be an opportunity for employers to have input. This is usually a lengthy process. When OSHA issues its rules, it will be challenged in court. As it stands now, there is no federal vaccine mandate on private sector business. These companies with vaccine mandates are doing it because they believe it is good policy.

WVVA: So, what is the law in West Virginia regarding employer vaccination mandates?

O’Neal: Again, employers have wide latitude in establishing workplace policy. Employers in West Virginia have the right to require vaccinations as a condition of employment. Some states have begun pushing back against employer vaccination mandates, most notably Florida and Texas. West Virginia may be joing this effort.

We have breaking news this evening that West Virginia Governor Jim Justice has placed a bill before the legislature that would give employees protection from strict employer vaccination mandates.

WVVA: What does the Governor’s bill say, and what is the likely outcome?

O’Neal: The Governor’s bill still allows employers to implement COVID vaccination mandates, but it requires employers in West Virginia to grant reasonable exemptions and accommodations. The bill requires health exemptions, and religious exemptions. The bill also requires exemption for an employee that has acquired natural immunity through already recovering from the virus. It applies to all employers in the state.

The bill seems to be a good faith effort to balance employer and employee rights. I suspect that the legislature will overwhelmingly approve the bill. We will monitor this issue closely, and report back to the viewers in the weeks to come.

Be sure to tune in every Wednesday at 5 p.m. on WVVA for a new edition of ‘SB Wednesday.’

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