Even in San Francisco, the bluest corner of the United States, the COVID wars seem to have abated. Today in New York City, Mayor Eric Adams ended its private sector vaccine mandates as the city struggles to get workers back in the office. Even President Joe Biden declared the pandemic over in an unscripted moment. But one of the most pernicious legacies of the COVID era persists.
While the Supreme Court ruled that Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) could not force employers to mandate vaccines, many employers, like Google and Meta, have forced employees to choose between the jab and their job. (RELATED: ANTONI: Biden’s Economic Claims Would Make Orwell’s Ministry Of Truth Proud)
Whether through bureaucratic inertia or an unwavering faith in the importance of vaccines that stop neither infection nor transmission, many companies still require their employees to receive two (or three or four) doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. We as conservatives must face head-on the question of whether private employers should have even the ability to require vaccines.
This debate recently surfaced, as Reason senior editor Stephanie Slade criticized Gov. Ron DeSantis’s defense of his decision to ban employers from enforcing vaccine mandates at the recent National Conservatism conference in Miami, Florida. The ban had a real-world effect, causing Disney to drop its employee vaccine mandate in Florida.
Despite our divisions, those of us on the right recognize the centrality of liberty as the bedrock ideal of the American polity. But whose liberty? The liberty of Google or Meta to make medical decisions for its employees? Or the liberty of workers to put food on their table while keeping their medical decisions between themselves and their doctor?
The enemy of liberty is coercion, and conservatives must fight coercion, not adhere to the libertarian fantasy of neutrality.
I can hear the libertarian rejoinder. Banning vaccine mandates is coercion. But the law is full of restraints and protections. Employers cannot make hiring decisions based on race, sex, sexual preferences, disability status, and an ever-growing list of protected classes. And there is no serious call in the conservative movement to end employment discrimination laws.
We thus accept constraints on freedom of contract and association, perhaps acknowledging that these laws once helped cure a social ill, even while recognizing that these well-intentioned laws can be abused or repurposed to serve the woke Leviathan.
Existing employment discrimination laws serve a variety of aims. The Americans with Disabilities Act, signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, is not a perfect law. But at its heart is the notion that disabled people should have access to the dignity of work, even when some businesses may be disinclined to hire disabled workers who require accommodations.
We as conservatives cannot simultaneously concede the existence of those employment discrimination laws already on the books, while opposing efforts to protect workers on purely theoretical grounds. Individual liberty will be served by a ban on private employer vaccine mandates.
Americans are declining the COVID-19 vaccines for all manner of reasons. Banning private employer vaccine mandates will protect the liberty interests of all those whose medical decisions have disqualified them from certain jobs, like the more than 800 unvaccinated teachers fired in New York City.
The cost is small in comparison: private employers must respect just one more protected class.
We cannot let our principled opposition to state power prevent us from eradicating one of the ugliest remnants of the COVID-19 era. Protecting liberty must mean stopping businesses from exercising control over their workers’ medical decisions.
Jesse D. Franklin-Murdock is an associate at Dhillon Law Group Inc. in San Francisco, where he practices employment law, First Amendment and defamation law, and political law. Follow him on Twitter @MurdockJDF
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