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Employer vaccine mandates soon to impact Wichita workers

Published: Nov. 10, 2021 at 7:33 PM CST
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Eyewitness News has heard concerns for weeks that companies will be forced to suspend employees over the federal vaccine mandate. In Wichita, workers could being to see the impact as early as Friday, Nov. 12, as Ascension Via Christi sets its own mandate and, by 5 p.m. Friday, employees who refused the vaccine will lose their jobs.

Wednesday, Eyewitness News spoke with a nurse who will lose her job. We also took a closer look at whether unemployment benefits could be available for those who opt to lose their jobs instead of getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

Ascension Via Christi nursing supervisor April Torske said she had an exemption that was denied.

“I love my job and I’ve been here a very, very, very long time I’ve given them 16 years,” she said. “And I submitted a medical exemption as many other of my colleagues within the building that I’m in and others have submitted medical and religious exemptions,” she said. “And they have been denied. My medical exemption was denied twice.”

It’s a reality that more businesses will face as OSHA’s January 4 deadline for the vaccine is less than two months away. Currently, employees who are dismissed for vaccine refusal don’t quality for unemployment benefits under Kansas law. That could change. State lawmakers are discussing a bill that would offer benefits to those who are fired for refusing the vaccine. Without the luxury of having time on their side, some lawmakers are pushing for a special session this month in Topeka to try and pass the bill granting unemployment benefits for those who are unemployed due to not getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

For now, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce is recommending lawmakers not to pass the bill because of the cost. The Kansas Chamber estimates the bill to cover unemployed Kansans who denied the vaccine would cost anywhere from about $600 million to $5 billion.

Another concern for the chamber is the idea that the bill could convince even more workers to leave their jobs as companies continue to struggle with staffing shortages.

“The rollout from the Biden administration clearly didn’t think through the policy or political consequences,” Kansas Chamber of Commerce President Alan Cobb said. “We’re at an all time shortage right now in the workforce.. and there are people who will quit if they have to get the vaccine. Even if it’s a small percent--say 10 percent--when employers are already struggling, it makes an impact.”

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