More companies lift vaccine mandates, rehire workers who refused COVID-19 shots

The public emergency declaration ends May 11 in Illinois.
Published: May. 11, 2023 at 6:19 PM CDT
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - Companies across the country, including those in the stateline, have been lifting their COVID-19 vaccine mandates now that the coronavirus is officially no longer a public emergency.

Vaccine mandates were a hot-button issue, especially when they were first rolled out. And while there is case law that supports vaccine requirements, a Rockford attorney says there’s nothing that obligates a companies to lift them now that COVID isn’t an acute situation.

There’s also no law that requires a business to rehire workers who were let go because they refused to get vaccinated. But companies are lifting vaccine requirements and bringing back ex-workers for a variety of other reasons.

“A lot of employers have staffing issues and need people,” said Bobbie Holzwarth, an attorney at Holmstrom Kennedy in Rockford. “And that’s a good source of employees--to ask those individuals to return to the workplace.”

The number of people who are now vaccinated and theoretically immune to coronavirus infection is also a factor.

“Employers may feel more comfortable inviting these individuals back into their workforce, either because the mandates they were subject to will be ending, or their internal policy is one they now feel comfortable changing,” Holzwarth said.

Some stateline residents say regardless of whether companies are legally bound to lift vaccine requirements or call departed workers back, it’s in everyone’s interest for them to do so.

“I really think that the employers themselves should use some discretion and be considerate to the former employees,” said DeShawn Denton, of Rockford.

Legal experts say while public employers may keep vaccine mandates in place for now, their long-term power could be in doubt now that the federal government has let the national emergency expire.

Private companies have a stronger argument to keep their mandates in place, especially those in at-will states like Illinois.