Last week, the United State Supreme Court heard arguments over federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates in the workplace. Meanwhile, 11 state legislators in Nebraska introduced legislation that would expand the rights of employees in Nebraska to opt out of employer-mandated vaccinations.
LB 906 would allow employees with a “strong moral, ethical or philosophical belief or conviction” to opt out of required vaccines in the workplace in employers with more than 20 employees.
The bill, if passed into law, would require the Nebraska Department of Health and Services to create an exemption form.
Employees can already claim religious and disability/medical exemptions from vaccine requirements under state and federal law. The ““strong moral, ethical or philosophical belief or conviction” would appear to broaden the exemption and likely simplify the process of a vaccine exemption.
But the bill allows employers to require exempt to test for infection at their employers’ expense or wear personal protective gear provided by their employer at their employer’s expense.
Traditionally protective gear is an expense born by employers. But the new federal mandates, put forward by a Democratic administration, requires employees who refuse vaccines to pick up the cost of their tests and protective gear. This practice has been criticized by employee-advocates. Ironically, the 11 co-sponsors of LB 906 are more-or-less uniformly right-wing. Yet they support legislation that doesn’t shift the cost of testing and protective gear onto employees.
Masks as PPE: OSHA vs. CDC
The one potential complication to this bill is the wording “personal protective equipment” or PPE. Lay people could believe that cloth masks and surgical masks would count as “personal protective equipment”. But the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) doesn’t count some masks as PPE while the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines masks as PPE.
Perhaps I’m overthinking the issue, but I could see an employer mandating masks and some employee arguing masks don’t count as PPE so they don’t have to wear a mask at work. But without anti-retaliation language in the bill or a penalty against employers who violate the act, I don’t see employees having legal recourse for refusing to wear a mask if they file for a vaccine exemption under LB 906.