A waitress in New York City was fired after she told her employer that she wanted to wait and see if the COVID-19 vaccine - which has been in use for less than nine months - has any side affects on pregnancy.
34-year-old Bonnie Jacobson, who started working at the Red Hook Tavern in August, says she's not an 'anti-vaxxer,' but was uncomfortable taking the vaccine while she and her husband were trying to conceive, she told the Daily Mail.
On February 8, the restaurant sent an email to employees which said "If you choose to get vaccinated, here's what you need to know." The email made no mention of mandatory vaccinations - which, by the by, don't prevent people from catching or transmitting COVID-19 and instead helps protect against serious illness from the disease.
During a staff meeting, Jacobson says she told her manager that she wanted more time to research the vaccine, and was told that she wouldn't be required to get the shot.
"As a 34-year-old woman, why take the risk right now when I can just wait a little longer when there are people a lot older and more at risk who could use the vaccine more than I could right now?" she told the Mail. "My dad is 68 years old and lives in Pennsylvania and has diabetes, there’s no reason why I should be getting that before him."
Days later on February 12, the Brooklyn tavern changed its mind and sent an email telling employees that the vaccine was mandatory.
"Please be advised that we will require that all employees receive the vaccination," reads the email.
"This will be mandatory for all existing employees and any new hires. The exception to this policy will be if your own personal health or disability prohibits you from obtaining this vaccination. We encourage you to consult your healthcare professional to determine if getting a vaccine is right for you."
Jacobson emailed her employers back, and said that while she 'fully supports' the vaccine, she doesn't want to get it yet.
"While I fully support the vaccine and understand its importance I do believe this is a very personal choice. I really hope this choice would not affect my employment at Red Hook Tavern," she wrote, adding that she takes COVID "very seriously" and will continue to practice safety guidelines.
"I get tested every 1-2 weeks and have never tested positive for COVID. I plan to continue these safety practices for as long as necessary," her email continues, adding "Also once there is more research to support that it does not affect fertility I would reconsider my position."
On Monday, however, Jacobson heard back - with her employers noting that the company 'respected' her 'very personal choice,' but that "In order to continue employment with us, getting the vaccine is required. At this time your employment will be terminated. We are sad to see you go. If you do change your mind, please do not hesitate to let us know."
Red Hook Tavern owner Billy Durney told the Mail that he could have handled the situation differently, and that the tavern would update its policy so all employees understand their stance.
"Once New York state allowed restaurant workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, we thought this was the perfect opportunity to put a plan in place to keep our team and guests safe," he said in a statement obtained by various outlets, adding "No one has faced these challenges before and we made a decision that we thought would best protect everyone."
"I just wanted more time they didn’t allow me that, I didn’t even have time to consult a physician. It was a week from being 'your choice,' to it's not going to be mandatory, to it us mandatory, to you’re fired," said Jacobson. "I had a very good working relationship there. I just had an employee review on February 6 and it was all positive, so it was truly shocking that it was so impersonal."
According to labor attorney Carolyn D. Richmond, it's too early for companies to mandate shots.
"Pregnancy and vaccine — as soon as you hear those words in the workplace, you should stop to think if what you are doing is right or wrong," Richmond told the New York Times. "It has to be generally available to the employee population and it's not. None of us are having an easy time getting appointments."
That said, employers have the right to mandate the vaccine, according to Dorit Reiss, a professor at the University of California Hastings College of Law.
"Requiring a vaccine is a health and safety work rule, and employers can do that," he told CNBC in December.
Last month, the World Health Organization advised pregnant women not to get vaccinated unless at high risk for COVID-19 due to underlying conditions.
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