February 17, 2022
4 min read
It’s not business as usual at the Arizona state Capitol.
Several bills have been introduced this session that fit a common theme: more government intrusion into private employers’ workplaces; new regulations undermining the ability of job creators to set their own policies; and the threat of costly litigation, stiff financial penalties or even criminal charges against employers just operating in the best interest of their employees and their businesses.
Put more directly: these measures seek to punish employers who require COVID-19 vaccinations as a condition of employment.
I appreciate that policymakers can have good-faith differences of opinion about vaccine mandates. The Chamber made its opinion clear following a move by the Biden administration to implement a “vaccine-or-test” mandate without consulting with the nation’s business community or governors. Job creators should have the authority to set their own workplace policies. Allowing these federal mandates to stand would have set troubling precedent for future and more cumbersome government overreach on private businesses.
The Chamber applauded the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last month to block the administration’s rule, and free enterprise advocates in Arizona and across the country collectively agreed: this ruling was a win for private employers and their authority to run a business without the heavy hand of government getting in the way.
Now, many of the same lawmakers who claim that government has no business dictating the workplace policies of private employers are leading efforts at the state Legislature that would do exactly that.
Many of these measures are being pushed through the Legislature under the guise of religious liberty, medical freedom and personal choice. Under one such proposal, Arizona businesses would be on the hook for $500,000 in damages – at a minimum – if they refuse a religious exemption from an employee who later experiences “significant injury” as a result of the vaccine (never mind that the bill never defines “significant injury”).
I want to be clear: if businesses are violating religious freedoms, they are already breaking existing law, and they should be held accountable. If employees are injured as a result of a workplace policy, they should seek recourse and be appropriately compensated.
We already have longstanding federal and state laws in place to address religious discrimination and workers’ compensation. We should not be creating new avenues to sue employers.
Meanwhile, a separate bill introduced this session stipulates any business that terminates an employee for not receiving a vaccine as a condition of employment would either have to pay that individual an annual salary’s worth of severance, or rehire the employee at the same or similar position.
Not only does the language in this bill apply broadly to any separation from employment – not just wrongful termination – it also doesn’t account for the fact that some industries remain subject to federal vaccination requirements. Under this legislation, these businesses would be forced to choose between complying with federal law or state statute – an impossible “sued-if-you-do, sued-if-you-don’t” scenario.
Just last year, the Legislature enacted commonsense liability protections for employers, protecting Arizona businesses from meritless litigation and rightfully recognizing the appropriate avenue for addressing employee claims was through Arizona’s workers’ compensation system. The Chamber and the broader business community strongly supported that bill.
Ironically, some of the same lawmakers who helped lead those efforts are championing legislation that encourages more lawsuits and more government intrusion. In some cases, one might think these bills were drafted by labor unions or trial lawyers, not legislators who purport to be champions of employer freedom.
Whether it’s the federal government telling businesses they must require vaccines or the state Legislature telling businesses they can’t, a mandate is a mandate. And we will continue to communicate to lawmakers of both parties that private sector job creators will resist government overreach – regardless of whether it’s coming from Washington, D.C. or the state Capitol.
Danny Seiden is president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry.