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How does latest Iowa law impact hospitals' vaccine mandates?

Companies are changing plans after Gov. Reynolds signed a bill expanding religious exemptions on Friday, Oct. 29.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Nov. 1 was the vaccination deadline for employees of two of the largest health care providers in Iowa, until a new bill signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds expanded access to religious exemptions for vaccine mandates. 

UnityPoint and MercyOne announced in August that all staff must be vaccinated against COVID-19 and originally said employees who did not comply could be fired. 

Now, both have released their new plans.

In a statement to Local 5, UnityPoint Health said unvaccinated staff members will be placed on administrative leave—rather than being fired—while the company reconsiders religious exemptions. Meanwhile, MercyOne is extending their vaccination deadline to Nov. 12: employees will have to submit their proof of vaccination or file for an exemption by then.

"[The new law] just seems to say that if there is a religious tenant or belief that's opposite, then you file the statement," attorney Bruce Stoltze Jr. said. "It doesn't seem to have the same requirements that the Iowa Civil Rights Act does."

RELATED: Gov. Kim Reynolds signs bill letting Iowans opt out of employer vaccine mandates

RELATED: Iowa joins multi-state lawsuit over Biden's federal vaccine mandate

The gray area could lead to challenges for the law.

"Business owners with sincerely held religious beliefs such as love thy neighbor who want to make sure that they have a safe environment, for their employees and for their customers by enforcing vaccine mandates, they have the standing to potentially challenge this law," attorney Leonard Bates explained.

There may be another source of conflict, too: federal law. 

In September, President Biden signed an executive order requiring all employers with over 100 employees to implement vaccine mandates.

"President Biden's executive order does carve out the possibility for there to be religious exemptions. That's a good thing. And the mistake of this Iowa law is trying to do a one size fits all," Bates said.

Another important detail to this law: If an employee is fired from a business for refusing the COVID vaccine without an exemption, they will still be eligible for unemployment benefits.

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