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Some workers who lost jobs over COVID-19 vaccine mandate may qualify for unemployment

The Employment Security Department will consider a number of factors when it comes to those filing for unemployment.

SEATTLE — For nearly 2,000 employees in Washington state who lost their jobs due to a state-mandated COVID-19 vaccination requirement, some may have a shot at qualifying for unemployment benefits.

The Washington Employment Security Department (ESD), the state agency that handles unemployment benefits, has seen "very few" applications so far, according to ESD spokesperson Nick Demerice.

"We won't see impacts for several weeks," Demerice told KING 5.

Applications will be determined on a case-by-case basis, according to FAQ information on the ESD website.

The ESD will examine "a number of factors" when receiving unemployment applications from employees who were let go due to not complying with workplace vaccine requirements. That includes when the employer adopted the requirement, whether the worker is otherwise eligible for benefits, what the allowable exemptions were in a workplace, and why the employee did not follow the vaccine requirement.

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The ESD will also consider situations where a worker qualified for an exemption but could not be accommodated to continue staying employed.

"Some of them will have a good argument for getting benefits," said attorney Anne Paxton, who works at the Unemployment Law Project, a group that deals mainly with unemployment benefits appeals.

Paxton said determining the worker's exemption process will play a role in whether they can qualify for unemployment.

"The Employment Security Department has made it clear it does not have a blanket answer," said Paxton.

Paxton said specific questions from the ESD will be asked, such as whether the worker refused other vaccines in the past. 

Those seeking unemployment should be prepared to present evidence of the medical problem laid out in a medical exemption, or be able to explain the sincerely held beliefs from religious exemptions.

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