Tennessee's Covid Policy Labyrinth
Some help navigating Tennessee's new Covid policies
Yesterday, the office of Tennessee Comptroller Jason Mumpower suspended all Covid exemptions put into motion following Tennessee’s Extraordinary Session III.
What does this mean? Prior to Tennessee’s Covid Special Session, the Federal government created a stipulation mandating that all companies seeking Federal contracts require their employees to be fully vaccinated. During the session, our legislature enacted laws that made it illegal for employers to require proof of vaccination and allowed employees to receive unemployment benefits if they were fired due to vaccination status. But in order to protect Tennessee businesses who operate using Federal funding, lawmakers added exemptions for companies that would lose their Federal contracts if they adhered to Tennessee State Laws banning mandates which conflicts with Federal law.
What happened to change this and what does the Comptroller have to do with it? The Tennessee Comptroller is in charge of granting exemption status to companies who operate under Federal contract. Exemptions were granted by the Comptroller following the Covid Special Session, but yesterday those exemptions were revoked. The reason for this is because of a Federal Court ruling made by U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove on November 30th. The ruling temporarily blocks Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for Federal contractors in Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee.
Why only those three states? The plaintiffs involved in this case are from those three states, so this can be looked at as a major stride in the eyes of Americans who oppose vaccine mandates in the state of Tennessee, Ohio, and Kentucky only. In response to this preliminary injunction, the Tennessee Comptroller went ahead and voided all the exemptions granted by his office to companies under Federal contract as the exemptions originally granted before this ruling are no longer legal according to Tennessee law.
How does this affect Tennesseans? If you are an unvaccinated employee who works at a company that operates under a Federal contract, you are now protected by Tennessee State Law in two ways:
- You do not have to provide proof of vaccination to your employer.
- If you are terminated due to non-vaccination status, you can collect unemployment benefits.
That said, this is only a temporary block of Biden’s vaccine mandate for Federal contract employees. Also, as cases filter through the American court system, it is unclear what rulings will affect what actions retroactively. If you were terminated for not providing proof of vaccination status to an employer who was granted an exemption by the Tennessee Comptroller, that employer’s actions were technically legal at the time. Pending court rulings, outcomes regarding actions taken by employers that were Federally mandated are in limbo.
- Some Tennesseans are left fending for themselves as they got caught in limbo due to Federal contract exemptions. 150 employees who opted for religious exemption at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) were not “fired,” but placed on indefinite unpaid leave. Six workers have sued the company.
- As of November 29th, the Biden administration called to delay firing unvaccinated Federal employees until next year.
- Tennessee lawmakers continue to question the necessity of Extraordinary Session III given the recent court rulings.