USW Local 5696 And Attorney Al Gordon O'Connell Win Reinstatement For MassDOT Worker Fired For Religious Objection To COVID Vaccine

April 02, 2024

Whatever your thoughts may be about the COVID vaccine requirements that sprang up during the height of the pandemic, one principle that remains clear is that employers were required to accommodate employees whose sincerely held religious beliefs prevented them from getting the vaccine unless such accommodation would cause an undue burden on the employer. On April 2, 2024, a neutral arbitrator determined that MassDOT failed to give proper consideration to potential accommodations for one such employee. The case was argued by Pyle Rome attorney Al Gordon O'Connell on behalf of United Steelworkers, Local 5696.

During the arbitration proceeding, Attorney Gordon O'Connell pointed out that MassDOT failed to engage in the required dialog with the employee about potential accommodations and failed to actively investigate any possible accommodations. While the Department may have faced a somewhat daunting task due to the sheer number of accommodation requests it received, it could not jeopardize the livelihood of its employees without looking into each employee's circumstances and evaluating the options to keep those employees working. Ultimately, the arbitrator concluded that MassDOT's cursory review of the options were insufficient to meet its burden under the law.

By the time this case reached arbitration, the vaccine mandate had been lifted and the employee was back at work, and so the arbitrator ordered that the employee receive all of his lost wages and benefits from the period that he was out of work. A copy of the award is attached - heavily redacted to protect the privacy of the individual employee.

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