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NYC waitress fired from job for saying she wanted to wait to get COVID-19 vaccine

A New York waitress was fired from her job on Monday after she told her bosses at a tavern that she wanted to wait to get the COVID-19 vaccine until she could learn more about its side effects on women who are pregnant.

Bonnie Jacobson, 34, said she is not an ‘anti-vaxxer’ but wanted to wait for more research as she recently starting trying to get pregnant with her husband, NBC News reported.

Jacobson, who started working at the Red Hook Tavern in August, told the outlet that her manager initially understood her concerns and said she would not be required to get the shot.

But the Brooklyn tavern changed its mind days later on February 12 and sent workers and email noting the vaccines were mandatory.

Bonnie Jacobson, pictured, was fired from her job as a waitress at Red Hook Tavern in Brooklyn on Monday

Jacobson said she wanted to wait to get the coronavirus vaccine after workers were sent an email telling them it was mandatory

Jacobson said she wanted to wait to get the coronavirus vaccine after workers were sent an email telling them it was mandatory

‘Please be advised that we will require that all employees receive the vaccination,’ notes the email, obtained by NBC News.

‘This will be mandatory for all existing employees and any new hires. The exception to this policy will be if your own personal health or disability prohibits you from obtaining this vaccination. We encourage you to consult your healthcare professional to determine if getting a vaccine is right for you.’

Jacobson then emailed her employers on Saturday and said that she did not yet want to get the vaccine, which she said she ‘fully supports.’

‘While I fully support the vaccine and understand its importance I do believe this is a very personal choice. I really hope this choice would not affect my employment at Red Hook Tavern,’ she wrote to her boss, according to NBC News.

‘Also once there is more research to support that it does not affect fertility I would reconsider my position.’ 

DailyMail.com has reached out to Jacobson and Red Hook Tavern owner Billy Durney for additional information and further comments.

Red Hook Tavern owner Billy Durney said he could have handled the situation differently

Red Hook Tavern owner Billy Durney said he could have handled the situation differently

Durney said the Red Hook Tavern would update its policy so it’s clear to its employees how the process works

Durney said the Red Hook Tavern would update its policy so it’s clear to its employees how the process works

Employees at restaurants like the Red Hook Tavern, pictured, were among the first groups to be eligible to get the vaccine in New York

Employees at restaurants like the Red Hook Tavern, pictured, were among the first groups to be eligible to get the vaccine in New York

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces workplace discrimination laws, allows companies to mandate vaccines for COVID-19 and other illnesses

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces workplace discrimination laws, allows companies to mandate vaccines for COVID-19 and other illnesses

Some existing laws could throw uncertainty to the legality of requiring a woman who is already pregnant to get the vaccine. Pictured: A view inside the Red Hook Tavern

Some existing laws could throw uncertainty to the legality of requiring a woman who is already pregnant to get the vaccine. Pictured: A view inside the Red Hook Tavern

She was told that she was fired two days after she sent her email.

‘My gut reaction was to just say, ‘OK. Fine, I’ll get it. I need my job.’ But that just didn’t sit right with me,’ she said.

‘I was like, ‘Actually, I don’t think that’s right. I don’t think that’s the choice I need to be making here.’

Jacobson told The New York Times: ‘If it wasn’t for this one thing, I would probably get it.’ 

Durney acknowledged to the outlets that he could have handled the situation differently.

‘Once New York state allowed restaurant workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, we thought this was the perfect opportunity to put a plan in place to keep our team and guests safe,’ Durney said in an emailed statement obtained by the outlets.

He continued: ‘No one has faced these challenges before and we made a decision that we thought would best protect everyone,’

‘And, we now realize that we need to update our policy so it’s clear to our team how the process works and what we can do to support them. We’re making these changes immediately.’

It’s not clear whether she was offered her job back, but Jacobson told NBC she didn’t want it back. 

Restaurant employees were among the first groups to be eligible to get the vaccine in New York outside of the health care industry and can help struggling businesses bring back diners.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces workplace discrimination laws, does allow companies to mandate the flu and other vaccines.

In December, the agency issued guidelines ruling that companies can require employees to get vaccinated but had to provide ‘reasonable accommodations’ to those with disabilities.

Some existing laws could throw uncertainty to the legality of requiring a woman who is already pregnant to get the vaccine.

LEGAL EXEMPTIONS FOR MANDATORY VACCINATION PROGRAMS 

Religious Accommodations Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

The law prohibits employers from discriminating against any individual because of their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

This means employees can request an exemption to mandatory vaccination programs if it goes against a ‘sincerely held religious belief.’ 

Establishing the case may be challenging however, depending on how jurisdictions define religious beliefs. 

Personal or ethical objections or personal anti-vaccination positions are not covered by this law. 

Medical Accommodations Under the ADA

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employees can object to a mandatory vaccine policy for medical reasons. 

The worker is required to prove they have a medical condition that makes it unsafe to get a vaccine.  

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) of 1970

Section 11(c) of the act pertains to whistle blower rights. 

‘An employee who refuses vaccination because of a reasonable belief that he or she has a medical condition that creates a real danger of serious illness or death (such as serious reaction to the vaccine)’ may be protected under this law. 

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, and sex, including pregnancy.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act forbids discrimination based on pregnancy, including hiring and firing, If a woman is temporarily unable to perform her job due to a medical condition related to pregnancy.

The American Disabilities Act notes that pregnancy alone cannot be deemed a disabling condition requiring reasonable accommodations, but many pregnancy-related conditions are considered disabilities.

Labor lawyer Carolyn D. Richmond told The New York Times it is too early in the distribution of the vaccine for companies to mandate employees get the shot. 

‘Pregnancy and vaccine — as soon as you hear those words in the workplace, you should stop to think if what you are doing is right or wrong,’ said Richmond, who advises the NYC Hospitality Alliance.

‘It has to be generally available to the employee population and it’s not. None of us are having an easy time getting appointments.’

Adam Mastroleo, a lawyer with Syracuse-based Bond, Schoeneck and King, told Syracuse.com that everyone has the right to choose whether or not to get the vaccine because it was approved under emergency authorization.

Others claim that laws are pretty clear about whether employers can force their workers to get a vaccine.

Dorit Reiss, a professor at the University of California Hastings College of Law, told CNBC that private businesses have extensive rights.

“Requiring a vaccine is a health and safety work rule, and employers can do that,” Reiss told the outlet in December. 

Hana El Sahly, a doctor who oversaw a clinical trial for Moderna’s vaccine, told CNBC that hospitals could eventually make the COVID vaccine a condition of employment. 

The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were not tested on pregnant women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and their ‘actual risks’ to pregnant women and their fetuses remains unknown.

The World Health Organization advised pregnant women last month not to get the inoculation unless at high risk for the coronavirus due to underlying illnesses. 


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