One Iowan learned Monday they were terminated from their job due to not receiving the COVID vaccine. Their religious exemption was denied by Workiva, a software company located in Ames.
In 2020, when everyone else shut down, Workiva was no different. Everybody worked from home. The company makes software for financial reporting and similar activities. Wells Fargo, for instance, may use the product to file with the SEC and exchange commission.
According to the former employee, Workiva “thrived” during the lockdown.
When things opened up, there were masks and health checks. Precautions were put in place. But as things progressed, those restrictions lightened. Things returned to “normal” slowly.
“There were never a ton of people in the office,” the former employee said. “Our building holds probably 500-600 people. I think at most we’d have 100 people in the building fully open.”
But when President Joe Biden announced his intentions to issue an executive order, the company quickly pushed employees to get vaccinated and put in place a deadline of Oct. 18.
“That was in September,” the former employee told The Iowa Standard. “I applied for a religious exemption that day.”
The exemption was filed on Sept. 14, 2021. The company sat on it until Oct. 5, 2021.
Based on the employee’s research, they said it just has to be stated they have a sincerely held religious belief, so they told turned in an exemption claiming to have a sincerely held religious belief.
“They wanted more information,” the former employee said. “They said they couldn’t approve it because I didn’t explain my belief.”
The former employee has a father who is a retired pastor. After the initial denial, the employee uploaded a statement on Oct. 7.
“I grew up in the church,” the former employee said. “I got ahold of my dad and some of his pastor friends and got ahold of a letter that they’ve helped some of their parishioners with and kind of tweaked it a little bit. I used the same letter for my son who works for Microsoft and his exemption got approved. I just said the same thing and sent it in. Well, then they responded and said no, they’re denying it.”
It was denied once again on Oct. 12. The company told the former employee the letter had been circulated online and they were not persuaded of the employee’s sincerely held belief.
“I didn’t know the law said I had to persuade them,” the former employee said. “I just had to have the belief. Even if it was a form letter, it doesn’t mean I don’t agree with what was in it or share the beliefs that were in it. And I did tweak it. They used the phrase it was ‘nearly’ word for word – so they’re acknowledging that it wasn’t word for word, it wasn’t just a copy-and-paste thing.”
After the second denial, the former employee asked for some transparency. Then the Vice President of Human Resources emailed saying the company wasn’t convinced and the employee had until Friday, Oct. 15 to upload proof of their first shot or they’d be fired on Oct. 18.
The letter, the company said, was based on the false premise that the COVID vaccine contains a number of substances it does not.
“Myths surrounding the ingredients in the vaccine have been widely debunked by reputable, science-driven sources, including the CDC and Johns Hopkins Medicine,” the denial from Workiva said. “We are not persuaded that the document you have provided represents your own sincerely held religious belief.”
Monday, Oct. 18 came and, sure enough, the employee received notification they were no longer employed.
“I got a call Monday, the 18th, and they let me go,” the former employee said.
The individual followed advice from Informed Choice Iowa and filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. They also filed stuff with the EEOC. They sent emails to legislators.
“I just followed the process and filed complaints,” they said. “The job is over. I’m now unemployed. I don’t have the means to hire a lawyer. I don’t ever plan on getting my job back. But I feel like there are not enough people taking a stand. It is a conviction of mine. I made this decision and took a stand and they took my livelihood away from me because of it.”
The former employee said they have family members working in nursing homes and in elderly care who do not have mandates until next year.
“It seems odd, and it seemed very discriminatory the way they handled the exemption process,” the former employee said. “Almost like they were going to try to use semantics and some games to deny it. It looks very much to me like they didn’t have any plan to accept any exemptions.”
According to the former employee’s complaint against Workiva, they were part of the National Study of COVID-19 Natural Immunity in Unvaccinated Persons, which is being led by a research team of surgeons, infectious disease doctors and epidemiologists at Johns Hopkins University.
“My results were positive that I did have natural immunity and antibodies to fight COVID all without taking a vaccine that went against my religious beliefs,” the letter states.
Workiva told the employee that it “reasonably concluded” if they were unable to describe their own religious belief in their own words, “it is not likely to be sincerely held.”
The former employee said they believe Workiva is only firing essential workers who do not get vaccinated. Non-essential workers who are able to do their job from home and do not upload proof of vaccination just have their badges turned off and keep their jobs.
“They are not even doing this across the board,” they said.
The Iowa Standard reached out to Workiva for comment. However, we have not heard anything in return.