Photo Credit: Complied from images in the Public Domain
Published May 27, 2021
The Tennessee Conservative Staff –
Individuals working in Tennessee have the right to ask for a religious exemption to taking a COVID-19 vaccine, but that does not guarantee that the exemption will be granted by employers. As companies weigh those requests against their reasons for requiring the vaccine, some Tennessee workers are finding themselves seeking new employment.
The FDA has approved emergency use authorizations for three COVID-19 vaccines to date. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, all of these vaccines have gone through the necessary clinical trials, met the standards required by the FDA, and have been shown to be safe and effective.
However, not everyone feels comfortable with taking any of the vaccines. Some individuals remain concerned with the lack of sufficient evidence to show the vaccines are safe. Others have issue with the use of mRNA in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
Melissa Fisher of Cleveland, Tennessee, is one of those people.
“I don’t want to take it and I don’t want to risk what the outcomes are going to be down the road,” Fisher stated.
Fisher works at an assisted living facility in nearby Athens. The facility is run by Enlivant, a company based in Chicago. Enlivant recently announced that the vaccine would be required for all employees.
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“We require all team members to receive at least their first COVID immunization by June 1st,” said Jeremy Ross, a spokesperson for Enlivant.
Rural areas of Tennessee have lower vaccine rates than urban areas. While public health officials have urged all residents to take one of the vaccines, Governor Lee has maintained that receiving the immunization should be a personal decision.
Fisher chose to request a religious exemption and even had her pastor write a letter that was submitted to Enlivant with her request.
Paster Mitchell Wright, pastor of Lighthouse Church International in Charleston, Tennessee.
“As a tenant of our Faith we are opposed to the COVID-19 vaccine. We believe that forced vaccination is in direct violation of our religious rights and is opposed to our freedom of religion. This letter is to serve as an official notice from our church leadership that Melissa Fisher is within her legitimate rights and is practicing her faith in accordance with the Holy Scripture and the Constitution of the United States of America,” the letter read.
When Fisher met with the company’s human resources department, she offered to submit to a weekly COVID-19 test in lieu of the vaccination. She also wears two masks while caring for her patients at the facility.
The company, however, did not accept that suggestion. In an email on May 10, they rejected her request for religious exemption and gave her only three weeks at most to seek new employment.
“To best protect our residents, employees, and visitors, all Enlivant employees at your Community must be vaccinated. Therefore, we cannot grant an accommodation of remaining unvaccinated,” the email reads. “Because we are unable to accommodate you, please be advised that we will begin recruiting for your role. As such, we may administratively end the employment relationship on or before June 1, 2021.”
According to Nashville labor attorney Rebecca Demaree, private employers can fire staff members who refuse vaccination, after they have reasonably considered accommodation requests for medical or religious exemptions.
Demaree says that companies must do what is called an “undue burden analysis.” The company must consider their reasons for requiring the vaccine and weigh that against a person’s reason for requesting a waiver of that immunization. Those working at health care facilities have a tougher time proving that their exemption should be granted.
“When you counter weigh that with the health and safety of the population that they are hired to care for and to serve, I think that’s a pretty high burden to get over for a religious exemption,” said Demaree.
Fisher refused to compromise on her beliefs, even if it meant she would be fired. She believes that double-masking and wearing gloves as she works should e effective in protecting her patients.
“We have a freedom of choice in this country. That’s what our forefathers fought and died for, and right now I think it’s being taken away from us with this vaccine,” Fisher said. “I wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize my residents’ health and safety and that’s not my intention of not taking this vaccine.”
Enlivant does not agree, stating that failure to be vaccinated creates too much risk for residents.
“As a healthcare company, we provide direct care to vulnerable senior residents, who trust us to provide a safe and healthy living environment,” Ross said. “We are equally dedicated to providing a safe and healthy work environment for our valued employees. These are our first priorities and the COVID vaccine is key to ensuring those priorities.”
While Enlivant did extend the vaccination deadline to August 1, Fisher opted not to extend her employment with the company, finding a new job instead.
Other Tennessee residents are not as fortunate and find themselves being pushed out of valuable employment as more companies attempt to force employees to be vaccinated.