Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchison announced he will not sign nor veto the vaccine mandate exemption bills (Senate Bill 739/House Bill 1977) that were sent to his desk on October 13. The Governor‘s inaction will result in the companion bills becoming law in 90 days, barring judicial action.
The new law will require employers to provide COVID-19 vaccine mandate exemptions to employees. Employers can do this by either requiring employees to produce a negative COVID-19 test once per week or proof of immunity, i.e. antibodies, twice per year. If the employee’s health care plan does not cover the testing, costs will be covered by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), state, or other federal funding. If such funding is unavailable, the employee must cover the cost.
The legislation also prohibits employers from terminating an employee for COVID-19 vaccine-related mandates if the employee complies with the employer’s exemption process requirements. This clause will make employees who are fired over COVID-19 vaccines eligible for unemployment insurance (UI). Without specific carve-outs such as this one, workers who are fired for failing to comply with a vaccine mandate typically would be ineligible for UI.
This piece of legislation is in response to the vaccine mandate President Biden announced in September. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sent the draft of the Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) to the White House for review on October 12, signaling that the official rule is on the horizon. It will be interesting to see how state laws like that in Arkansas will interact with that rule if when it is released.