Kansas workers cannot be fired from their jobs for seeking a religious exemption to COVID-19 vaccine mandates, according to a new state law. 

Governor Laura Kelly signed a bill on November 22 that prohibits an employer from terminating an employee who submits a written waiver request citing sincerely held religious beliefs to a vaccine requirement. 

Employers might feel obligated to verify the legitimacy of those types of requests, but experts caution against it. 

“Employers must exercise caution when processing religious exemption requests,” says Connor Cross, Director of Human Resources for Syndeo. “This is very much in line with some of the legal guidance we have seen stating religious exemption requests should not be highly questioned.”

The passage of House Bill 2001 comes during a time when the topic of vaccine mandates has created uncertainty and unrest for employers and those who work for them.

The new Kansas law includes provisions that would levy court-imposed fines against employers up to $10,000 per violation for businesses with fewer than 100 employees or up to $50,000 per violation for companies with 100 or more employees. 

According to the bill, the amount of the civil penalty would be determined based on the following factors: 

  • The employer knowingly and willfully violating the bill’s provisions.
  • The employer showing good faith in attempting to comply with the bill’s provisions.
  • The employer taking action to correct the violation.
  • Whether the employer has been previously assessed a civil penalty for violating the bill’s provisions.
  • Any other mitigating or aggravating factor that fairness or due process requires.

The Kansas Department of Labor is fielding complaints from people who allege they were terminated for filing for a religious exemption to a vaccine mandate. The Labor Department then has 60 days to determine whether: 

  • The employer in question instituted a COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
  • Received a written waiver request from the employee seeking a religious exception.
  • The employee was terminated, demoted, transferred, suspended or reassigned as a result of the exemption request.  

House Bill 2001 is being applied retroactively to September 9, 2021, the date President Joe Biden announced issued executive orders pertaining to COVID-19 mandates.  

Those executive orders have faced various legal challenges since then.

 

About us: As the Heartland’s leading employer services company, Syndeo partners with local business owners to help them minimize risk, improve efficiency and maximize profitability allowing them the freedom to focus on growth and fulfilling their mission. Syndeo fulfills its mission by taking on all of the HR responsibilities for our clients’ workforce, including employee relations, benefits, risk management and payroll.

 Winner of the 2020 and 2021 Best of HR Services Award through ClearlyRated for providing superior client service. See our ClearlyRated profile here.

~Josh Heck is Syndeo’s marketing manager. He can be reached at jheck@syndeohro.com or (316) 440-9940.