On November 16, 2021, the Governor of Utah signed a law SB2004 into place, which enacts limitations and additional obligations on Utah employers regarding mandatory vaccine and testing requirements for their employees. In this article we will review a few of the more interesting aspects of the new law.
Relief from Employer Vaccination Requirements/Mandates
The new law requires employers to provide employees an accommodation from a COVID-19 vaccination requirement under several conditions:
(1) if receiving the vaccine would be injurious to the health and wellbeing of the employee or prospective employee;
(2) if receiving the vaccine would conflict with a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance of the employee or prospective employee; or
(3) if receiving the vaccine would conflict with a “sincerely held personal belief” of the employee or prospective employee.
While the first two exceptions are similar to accommodations most employers are required to provide under federal law, the third expands employee protections from an employer’s vaccine mandate well beyond any right currently existing under federal law by extending protections to an employee’s “sincerely held personal beliefs”. At this point, the new law does not define or further explain what amounts to a “sincerely held personal belief.”
The new law does not completely prohibit employer vaccine mandates. As such, employers in Utah may still mandate vaccination as a condition of employment so long as they provide relief in accordance with the new law. If an employee would like to be granted an accommodation, they must “submit to the employer a statement” indicating that receiving the vaccine would fall into one of the categories described in the new law.
However, not all businesses are covered. The law does not apply to employers with, (i) fewer than 15 employees that, (ii) can establish a nexus between the vaccination requirement and the employee’s assigned duties and responsibilities. What might establish a nexus between the vaccination requirement and the employee’s assigned duties and responsibilities for employers with fewer than 15 employees is also unspecified.
If an employer has required that employee’s undergo regular testing or if that employer has established a “vaccine or test” requirement for employees, then the law obligates the employer to pay for the testing requirements placed on employees.
The law also places requirements on employer recordkeeping practices related to employee vaccinations. SB2004 states that employers may not “keep or maintain a record or copy of an employee’s proof of vaccination” unless it is otherwise required by law or business practice. Accordingly, the law does not appear on its face to prohibit an employer from requesting proof of vaccination in order to verify vaccination status as long as employers do not retain a copy of the employee’s proof of vaccination.
The new law provides that “federal contractors” are not considered employers for purposes of the statute – but who qualifies as a federal contractor is not defined in the law. Whether the exclusion for federal contractors means any and all federal contractors, or only those subject to the Biden administration’s September 9, 2021 Executive Order 14042: Ensuring Adequate COVID Safety Protocols for Federal Contractors, is not entirely clear. That said, because the Utah Legislature chose not to tie the term federal contractor directly to the subset of federal contractors subject to the federal contractor mandate, it likely means the term was intended to be interpreted broadly.
The law went into effect on November 16, 2021.