Religious exemption set to expire, some health care workers brace losing jobs

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Time is running out on the religious exemption. Some unvaccinated nurses say they’re at the point of panic.

Some local health care workers are bracing to lose their jobs to the big coronavirus vaccine mandate Monday, as that is when health care facilities will stop letting them use a religious exemption to get out of getting vaccinated.

Two nurses News10NBC spoke to said they are so overwhelmed with the situation that they asked to keep their names anonymous in fear of any repercussions. One woman is a registered nurse and works remotely, she got to keep her exemption. The other is a certified nursing assistant who works directly with patients and says her last day of health care work will be Monday.

Some health care workers are just hours away from losing a career they live for. One tells us she has been a certified nursing assistant for years. When she got the letter that her religious exemption was going to be pulled, she went into panic mode.

"If we don’t get it and they do get rid of us, we can’t get unemployment, they’re really just making it so we have no say over our bodies and our choices and it’s just not right,” one local nurse said.

Not all health care workers share the same story. One local registered nurse told us that she works remotely with patient paperwork and was told, for the time being, her exemption will still be active even after Monday’s deadline. But, oddly enough, she says that’s not the same tune for other remote workers in her unit.

"I don’t ever step foot in a hospital, but I do still have to do weekly testing .That’s not the same for all remote employees; some of them are getting fired tomorrow,” she said.

Both nurses explained some of the reasons they feel ripping the exemption away isn’t right.

"A large percentage of the patients coming in with COVID are fully vaccinated.”

"We are mandated to get the shot but family members are not, so it doesn’t make sense to me because if we’re posing that risk and we’re being forced to do that, how is it not the same for other people coming into the same facility?"

That one CNA told us she is allowed to work Monday, but the deadline is 4 p.m. inside her facility, and at that point, she has to leave. Even with the mandate, New York State facilities must have a process in place to consider reasonable accommodation requests from employees based on sincerely held religious beliefs.