CLEVELAND — As millions of people are enrolling in benefits for 2022, the push to get more people vaccinated against COVID has some employers denying some of those benefits and setting restrictions for unvaccinated workers.
New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority recently announcing employees unvaccinated at the time of their death will no longer receive death benefits which include a $500,000 pay out often given to their families.
According to Kaiser Health News, the transit authority’s policy originated from a pact with workers in April 2020 as COVID cases overwhelmed New York. A KHN article states, “transit officials and the labor unions representing employees reached agreements that workers who died of covid would be eligible to receive a $500,000 lump-sum death benefit, just like payments to which families of MTA workers who have other job-related deaths are entitled. The program will continue through the end of this year.”
“If the death is preventable or at least there's an excellent chance it was preventable and the person could have taken steps to prevent it, the employer probably is on sound ground,” said Sharona Hoffman, Case Western Reserve University professor of Law and Bioethics. “Employers are within their rights to establish this requirement. It's a work requirement and there are all kinds of work requirements that interfere with people's autonomy.”
Many employers say they’re simply following the mandate handed down by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is currently on hold. It requires private employers with 100 or more staff required to enforce the COVID vaccine and offer paid time off for vaccination and recovery. Alternatives for those unwilling or lawfully protected, include weekly covid tests.
“Most of us in the United States live in cities and cities are population dense. And in order to survive in population-dense settings, you need really aggressive public help to stop there from being all sorts of illnesses transmitted in these very dense settings,” said Dr. Amy Edwards, Pediatric Infectious Disease Expert at UH Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital. “Anybody saying that these are unfair or unconstitutional or that they've never been done before, it's just not true.”
A spokesperson with Progressive Insurance told News 5 the company is following the OSHA mandate. Dozens of employees recently protested outside its Mayfield location over a company policy leaving those unvaccinated with a bi-weekly surcharge totaling about $650 a year beginning in January.
“We told our employees some time ago that we would add a bi-weekly surcharge for employees who choose to enroll in our medical plans and choose not to be vaccinated against COVID-19. This is a health plan premium differential, not a vaccine mandate. We knew the surcharge wouldn’t be welcome news for some, but we feel strongly it’s the right decision for us to help address the financial risks associated with COVID-19 claims while controlling plan premiums,” said Jeff Sibel, Progressive Public Relations Representative.
Dr. Carla Harwell, medical director of the UH Otis Moss Health Center, says while she understands the vaccine hesitancy surrounding conspiracies, misinformation and the risk of still getting COVID while vaccinated, too many lives have been lost.
“Over 90% of the cases of individuals that are hospitalized in our hospital system, I know for a fact are unvaccinated individuals.”
The pressure to comply is now falling on families who risk losing their jobs or pay.
“Mistrust of the government that is still playing a heavy role,” Harwell explained. “A lot of that still perpetuates and especially in the black community about the vaccine. To me, that's what we need to stop.”