Just like the front offices at major sports teams, businesses around the country are having to make tough choices about employees either refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19, or in some instances, even faking their vaccination status.
But unlike National Hockey League player Evander Kane, who received a 21-game suspension last week for reportedly submitting a fake vaccine card to his team, employees caught doing the same in many offices in the U.S. could not only be terminated from their jobs, but potentially face prison time if employers choose to report offenses to authorities.
According to Lindsay Ryan, a lawyer at Pulsinelli specializing in COVID-19 employment issues, businesses are increasingly having to address employees caught forging vaccine cards and many bosses don’t know how to legally hold them accountable.
“We are starting to hear more and more about companies who have questions about what to do if they suspect that a vaccine card is fake. And it’s not always clear,” she said on Yahoo Finance Live. “Most employers are taking a pretty hard stance — if they find out that someone has presented a fake vaccine card, there usually is a company policy in place that will entitle them to discipline that employee. And usually that disciplinary action will just be termination.”
Of course, there is a bit of staggered approach being taken by companies when it comes to heeding the call from President Biden to mandate vaccines. For companies like American Airlines, which was among the first major corporations to mandate vaccines among employees, the policy is pretty unambiguous: get vaccinated, or face termination. For others, waiting to see how legal challenges play out is the strategy of choice. There are currently 10 states, all led by GOP-governors, suing the federal government over Biden’s executive order that mandates companies with more than 100 employees require vaccinations. The order, which is supported by prior Supreme Court rulings, also applies to federal workers, and employees at hospitals and nursing homes that depend on Medicare or Medicaid payments.
Ryan tells Yahoo Finance some businesses are still working through the appropriate level of vetting to ensure employee vaccination statuses. Interestingly, she notes that the law is pretty clear when it comes to forging federal documents like vaccine cards, but a minority of company policies could possibly leave enough wiggle room to make terminating employees caught in the act more difficult.
“Employers should be aware and should make sure that their employees are aware that presenting a fake vaccine card to their employer could result in legal liability and probably violations that range from a fine of up to $5,000 or even imprisonment,” she said. “Most employers do have some type of company policy in their employee handbook that prohibits dishonest acts … and so for most employers, they would be in the right to terminate or to discipline an at-will employee for presenting a false vaccine card in connection with their vaccine policy.”
In a poll of Yahoo Finance viewers, the majority of more than 1,000 respondents agreed that employees should be fired if they are caught forging vaccine cards.
Human resources departments might find themselves in a tricky position as they fall deeper into the role of a vaccine enforcer. As Ryan says, not only are there questions around mandates to address but also special exemptions to account for.
“You also have the added component that individuals are entitled to request reasonable accommodations and perhaps an exemption from the vaccine requirement for religious reasons or disability-related reasons,” she said. “And so that also requires personnel that can field those requests, engage in the interactive process with employees, and respond to those requests. So it’s a big ask of HR departments for companies. And they are having to rethink how their company is equipped to handle those issues.”