A Kansas law (KS H 2001) was signed on November 23, 2021 and went into effect immediately upon signing which requires employers to allow exemptions from a mandatory COVID vaccination requirement if an employee submits a written statement that says getting vaccinated would either:
- Endanger the life or health of the employee or a person living with the employee; or
- Violate their sincerely held religious beliefs.
The law applies to all employers with one or more employees in Kansas.
Employers can require employees to provide a doctor’s note to confirm that getting vaccinated for COVID would endanger their life or health (or that of their family or household member) if the request is for a medical reason. However, the law requires employers to grant sincerely held religious belief exemption requests in accordance with its provisions, “without inquiring as to the sincerity of the request.”
Failure to accommodate employees can result in penalties. Courts may impose penalties of up to $10,000 per violation for employers with fewer than 100 employees, or up to $50,000 per violation for employers with 100 or more employees.
The law also permits employees who were discharged or suspended for misconduct as a result of their refusal to comply with a COVID-19 vaccine requirement after requesting exemptions or accommodations to receive unemployment benefits, including benefits retroactive to September 9, 2021.
Next Steps for Employers
Although federal and Kansas laws already require employers to grant exemptions based on disability or religious belief, those laws have exceptions for when the exemption would cause the employer an undue hardship. The exemptions under this Kansas law are much broader and do not permit an inquiry into the sincerity of the request for religious beliefs, nor does it provide employers with an undue hardship exception, like federal law.
The legality of state laws that limit employer vaccination policies will also be dependent upon whether the federal OSHA ETS survives its current legal challenges.