Injured Worker Refuses Suitable Job Because He Opposed Vaccination

October 16, 2023

It was reasonable for an injured employee who is returning to work to refuse a job that accommodated his disability because he had personal and religious objections to getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

The Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission (WCC) ruled against the city of Chesapeake and its insurer, PMA Management Corp., in their bid to restrict the employee’s workers’ compensation benefits because, they maintained, the man’s refusal of the job arranged for him was unreasonable.

However, the WCC ruled that the employee’s refusal was reasonable and justified given his religious and personal objections to the vaccination.

John Holliday worked for the city as a groundskeeper before his compensable accident. After he recovered from surgery, the city secured a job as a part-time production worker with a services firm, Eggleston. Holliday at first accepted the job but then withdrew his acceptance when told Eggleston required the vaccination.

Virginia law provides that if an injured employee refuses suitable employment, benefits can be restricted unless, in the opinion of the WCC, such refusal was justified.

The WCC noted that once an employer offers suitable employment, the burden shifts to the employee to show justification for refusing the offer. However, the WCC continued, the determination of justification involves “a much broader inquiry than merely considering whether the intrinsic aspects of the job are acceptable to the prospective employee.” Justification “may arise from factors totally independent of those criteria used to determine whether a job is suitable for a particular employee.”

The WCC concluded that because the requirement to take the vaccine conflicted with his religious and personal beliefs, Holliday was justified in declining the job.

The WCC further noted that the vaccine was new at that time. Holliday wanted to work, as shown by his initial acceptance of the job and by submitting to the drug screen, the WCC added.

This WCC said the case was analogous to a 1990 case involving a worker’s refusal to undergo a bone scan out of concern for side effects. The court agreed that the bone scan was medically justified. However, the court noted, “The question is not whether the recommended procedure was justified, but whether the patient’s refusal to submit to it was justified. The matter of justification must be considered from the viewpoint of the patient and in light of the information which was available to him.”

The court in 1990 found the claimant’s refusal to undergo the bone scan was justified.