Labor attorney suggests workers unlikely to avoid most vaccine requirements when citing religious objections

First responders are expected to pack the Redmond City Council meeting Tuesday night as they seek clarity in their attempts to express religious exceptions to complying with a COVID-19 vaccination mandate. 

On Monday, Q13 News first reported as many as 20 Redmond firefighters worried they could be out of a job if they do not get the shot.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Redmond firefighters battle for vaccine exemption

The Washington State Council of Firefighters said its office and affiliated local unions are not involved with requests for exemptions. City Councilmembers and Redmond’s Mayor did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

Callie Peterson told Q13 News she worries her husband’s 15-year-long career with the city’s fire department could evaporate if his request for accommodation are not approved. 

"This is their livelihood," she said. "It’s a life of service."

"I think it’s important to understand there is 115 years of precedent on this issue," said Jason Rittereiser from HDK Employment Attorneys.

Rittereiser says case law dating back to 1908 surrounding the smallpox vaccine will likely guide any new legal challenges to Governor Jay Inslee’s mandate. 

Redmond’s firefighters seeking religious exemption are not the first public sector employees attempting to avoid vaccination requirements. Earlier this month, state troopers and other public employees sued Walla Walla County over the same issue.

READ MORE: Washington state troopers, other workers sue over vaccine

Rittereiser says employers might likely prevail any new legal challenges even if workers can reasonably articulate their religious exemptions.

"It can’t be something you made up, can’t be something you just found on the internet," he said. "It has to be a practicing religious exemption that is sincere in nature."

Peterson worries over her future if the Redmond officials choose to let go of employees avoiding the vaccine.

"They’re going to be so shorthanded and not have the amount of staff to serve the community," she said. 

Redmond’s city council meeting is scheduled for Tuesday evening. The forum is open to the public.

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