News & Politics

Oregon Continues to Tighten the Screws on the Unvaccinated

AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

Oregon Governor Kate Brown (D-Portland) has reinstated an outdoor mask mandate, and Oregon is requiring vaccines for first responders and K-12 school employees. If that wasn’t enough, now the Oregon Employment Department says anyone who refused the vaccine will not get unemployment benefits.

OregonLive reports:

“In broad strokes, requiring somebody to be vaccinated during the midst of a worldwide pandemic is a reasonable policy,” David Gerstenfeld, acting director of the Oregon Employment Department, said on his weekly media call Wednesday.

“So, if somebody doesn’t follow that policy, and they don’t have a good reason, it very well could result in their not being eligible for benefits,” said Gerstenfeld, who is also an attorney. He said there are “narrow” exceptions for people with a medical exemption or a “sincerely held religious belief.”

That’s a much more definitive position than the department took a week ago, when it described vaccine mandates as a “rapidly evolving issue” and said it was awaiting clarity from future court rulings on benefits eligibility.

According to OregonLive, under Oregon law, someone fired or laid off can receive jobless benefits. Benefits are not available to those who “quit without good cause.” Employees fired for not complying with reasonable company policy may also not qualify for benefits. David Gerstenfeld, acting director of the Oregon Employment Department, said during the call that those who refuse the vaccine could fall under the category of not complying with reasonable company policy.

The Portland Tribune report indicates Oregon’s Employment Department might have tried to shift the blame:

The acting director of the Oregon Employment Department says there are exceptions under federal law — notably a medical disability or a deeply held religious belief — but it boils down to whether an employer has a “reasonable expectation” that vaccination is necessary for a business to operate.

While states pay unemployment benefits, they are subject to state and federal laws and the guidance of the U.S. Department of Labor.

“I want to be clear it isn’t the Employment Department making a value judgment as to whether it is a good or bad policy,” Gerstenfeld said. “We give employers quite a bit of leeway to run their business the way they want. But when looking at benefit eligibility, it’s really about whether the standard they set was a reasonable one.”

Given the department’s previous statement that it awaited clarity from future court rulings on eligibility, one might reasonably assume the issue remains unresolved.

Related: No, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Wasn’t a Superspreader Event. So When Does Gov. Noem Get Her Apology From the Media?

Nonetheless, the state of Oregon and its massive bureaucratic apparatus continue to tighten the screws on those who refuse to get vaccinated.