The bill, HSB 281, seeks to protect workers who are denied medical or religious exemptions to vaccine mandates.
The law is limited to an employee “discharged from employment for refusing to receive a vaccination against COVID-19.” The bill focuses on those who have been rejected for medical or religious exemption requests.
“I believe we have found a meaningful solution to protect Iowans and Iowa businesses from the Biden administration’s extreme government overreach,” Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley, a Republican, said in a statement following the bill’s passing.
The House passed the bill in a 68–27 vote on Thursday. The legislation passed earlier in the Senate 45–4. Two major parts of the bill include:
- Any business that requires the COVID-19 vaccine must allow waivers for employees if the vaccine could cause injury to a person’s health and well-being, and the business must allow a waiver for religious exemptions.
- If an employee is fired for not getting the vaccine, the business must make sure the employee is still eligible for unemployment benefits.
Employers in violation of the new law could face up to $14,000 in fines per violation.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, signed the legislation Friday morning.
“I am proud to sign this bipartisan piece of legislation today. This is a major step forward in protecting Iowans’ freedoms and their abilities to make healthcare decisions based on what’s best for themselves and their families. This legislation also gives employees the assurance that they will still receive unemployment benefits despite being fired for standing up for their beliefs,” Reynolds said in a statement.
“This is only the first step. We will be taking other legal actions against the Biden Administration’s vaccine mandate,” the governor added.
The push for the legislation arose following President Joe Biden’s announcement in September of expanded vaccine mandates nationwide. The new requirement includes federal workers, contractors, and subcontractors; in addition to upcoming rules for employees who work for companies of 100 or more employees.
Some felt the new bill to provide unemployment benefits did not go far enough.
State Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, a Republican, posted a response on Twitter calling it “an important first step,” but said “a great deal more” must be done.
Kaufmann, along with fellow state Republican Rep. Jon Jacobson, plans to lead a special subcommittee to “work toward the creation of an additional study bill.”