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Kevin O'Flaherty

This article discusses how refusing the Covid-19 vaccine may impact your parenting time and your job. The article will discuss the following questions:

  • Can a judge order a parent to be vaccinated?
  • Can you be fired for not getting the Covid-19 vaccine?
  • What if your state allows religious or medical exemptions?
  • How to avoid a potential parenting time dispute over vaccination?

Disclaimer: The long-term legal implications involving Covid-19 vaccinations are unknown at this time. As such, the information presented in this article is based on past legal rulings. Portions may be prone to conjecture.

The first doses of an FDA approved Covid-19 vaccination were administered this week. Projections suggest that the majority of Americans will have access to the vaccine as early as March. A great many Americans welcome an end to the pandemic through vaccination. But, some are skeptical of the vaccine or avoid vaccination for personal reasons. Just as we saw unprecedented legal issues arise as the pandemic grew, we will likely see more now that a vaccine is available.

Can A Judge Order A Parent Be Vaccinated?

For divorced couples, being at odds over vaccination could quickly become a significant point of contention. When determining custody and parenting time, the court considers the child's best interests first and foremost. What happens if one parent refuses the get vaccinated, causing the other parent to claim that their child is unnecessarily being put in danger? What if the other parent is at risk of losing their job by refusing the vaccine? Will a judge step in and order the parent to get vaccinated or risk losing parental time? Does it matter if the parent cites a religious or medical excuse? The answer may lie within guidelines already made explicit by the law.

When it comes to custody and parenting time, the judge will always lean towards the action that appears to be in the child's best interest. Judges regularly order parents to complete rehabilitation, anger management classes, financial management classes, etc., because it will improve the child's life, even at great inconvenience to the parent. Suppose the decision comes down to a person's religious belief and the child's best interests; religion losses almost every time. However, depending on the child's age and the state, if the child refuses to get vaccinated the judge may be forced to rule against the other parent. A child's legal right to make his or her own decision regarding health care has gone up against the law many times over the years. If the child can prove that they understand the gravity of the decision, the judge will often side with them. 

A medical excuse presents a legitimate defense to mandatory vaccination. If someone shows that getting the vaccine poses a more immediate risk, the judge's hands are tied. Common sense would suggest guaranteed injury and illness circumvents potential illness.

Can You Be Fired For Not Getting The Covid-19 Vaccine?

Some airline companies have already announced that customers must receive a Covid-19 vaccine once it becomes widely available, or they will be denied entry. There is no doubt that company executives and school administrators are gathering in boardrooms to discuss mandatory vaccination. 

Most companies hire employees "at-will," meaning their employment contract is open-ended and guaranteed for a set period. They could, until the CARES Act, also be laid off with or without notice. Unless federal legislation passes that prohibits a company from firing someone who refuses Covid-19 vaccination, there is a substantial chance that businesses will make vaccination mandatory.

Lawsuits against employers by employees citing "failure to provide a safe working environment in response to Covid-19" are real and ongoing. Employers are legally required to keep their worksites safe for all employees. Your employer can't physically force you to get a vaccine, but they can fire you for refusing, even if they don't explicitly state as much.

Independent contractors and consultants may not be spared from vaccination requirements. There is no legislation barring companies from requiring that anyone who works on-site or visits a company location first be vaccinated.

What If Your State Allows Religious Or Medical Exemptions

There is no doubt that at least a handful of legal conflicts over mandatory Covid-19 vaccination will ensue in the coming months. A majority of states allow religious exemption from vaccination, and a smaller number allows personal and non-medical exemptions. However, we've seen the standard invasion of privacy laws upended during the pandemic, and it's likely we'll see disruption in the religious exemption space. Remember, the judge doesn't care about your religion. If the other party can show that you place your child at risk, expect to lose parenting time. Your company doesn't need a reason to fire you, as long as the firing isn't illegal.

A medical exemption provides the only legitimate argument for not getting a Covid-19 vaccination.

How To Avoid A Potential Parenting Time Dispute Over Covid-19 Vaccination?

Open communication with the other parent is crucial. Start talking about the vaccine now and figure out where you both stand. If one of you is planning on waiting to get the vaccine for any reason, understand that you may have to modify your parenting agreement. Ending up in court over an argument that has a predictable outcome benefits no one.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.


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