Hospitals face sticky territory as employees ask for religious exemptions ahead of vaccination deadline

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – Hospitals are racing the clock to comply with a statewide mandate where all hospital employees in California must be vaccinated against Coronavirus. But there are exceptions to the mandate, which has created a compliance controversy.
Local hospitals say most of their staff is fully vaccinated but those claiming religious exemptions find themselves in purgatory.

“You just can’t grab one verse from the bible and say I think the vaccine is unsafe and the bible tells me it’s unsafe,” said Dorit Reiss, Professor of Law at UC Hastings.

Many have complied but others have refused. Dignity Health reports over 80-percent of Bakersfield employees have taken the shot. Adventists report 90-percent compliance.

At the top of this conundrum, hospitals need to keep an open mind. That is what Daniel Walcott, President of Adventist Health Kern County, keeps in mind as his staff begins to claim exemptions.

 “As a faith-based, not-for-profit health system it’s important for us to recognize that people come from different places,” said Walcott.

Human Resource departments had to navigate thru sticky territory for the past months when an employee claims their faith, forcing them to keep certain things in mind.

“Is this person being sincere and that is really hard to prove,” said Reiss.  “You can however tell the employee to spell out their argument.”

For people whose faith prohibits them from eating pork, they’ve filed exemptions based on the fact that some vaccines use a gelatin substance that derives from pork.

Others have claimed the fact that some vaccines were tested on fetal cells.

Reiss mentions that employers have asked employees whether they have also sworn off modern medicine like Tylenol, Pepto-Bismol and Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Ex-Lax, Benadryl, and Claritin

But not every claim is the same nor guaranteed.

“On the other hand, not everything is religion, the fact that you think that the vaccine is unsafe is not a religious argument,” said Reiss.  “The fact that you say that the government is out to control you is not a religious argument.”

Some local hospitals have warned that if a claim is found to be false, employment could be in jeopardy.

“If none of those things become true,” said Bruce Peters, President of Mercy Hospital during a COVID roundtable on Wednesday.  “Those folks could be terminated in January.”

In the end, there are a few claims that will be granted.  

“The one that is most likely to succeed here is an employee that has a long-standing history of refusing modern medicine,” said Reiss.

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