Clyde Snow

Vaccine Mandate Whiplash: Where Do Things Stand in Utah?

by | Dec 1, 2021

December 1, 2021

The past few weeks have seen a flurry of regulatory activity by the federal and state governments regarding COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Even though court actions continue, now is a good time for employers to assess their current requirements and update policies and practices.

Federal Mandates


On November 4, 2021, OSHA issued an Emergency Temporary Standard (“ETS”) on Vaccination and Testing, which would have required most employers with 100 or more employees to require vaccination or weekly testing. However, enforcement activities were quickly suspended by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which ordered that OSHA “take no steps to implement or enforce” the ETS “until further court order.” So, for now, employers who were subject to the ETS are not required to implement vaccine-related policies for their employees.

Federal Contractor Requirements

On September 9, 2021, the Biden Administration issued an Executive Order announcing that federal contractors would be required to comply with COVID-19 safety protocols, including vaccine mandates. Federal contractors can expect to see these requirements in their contracts and renewal documents over the coming months. One exception arises out of a federal court’s ruling from on November 30, 2021, which temporarily halted enforcement of these requirements to federal contractors in Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee.

CMS Rule

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services also issued an emergency rule requiring most health care workers to receive their first vaccine by December 6, 2021, and to be fully vaccinated by January 4, 2022. On November 30, 2021, a federal court issued a nationwide injunction that has temporarily blocked this mandate in all states.

Utah S.B. 2004

On November 16, 2021, Governor Cox signed into law Utah S.B. 2004, which went into effect the next day. This law directly impacts both large and small employers in Utah. Most Utah employers are now required to waive any COVID-19 vaccine requirement if an employee or prospective employee submits a statement that receiving the vaccine would be injurious to their health, would conflict with a sincerely held religious belief, or would conflict with a sincerely held personal belief.

Employers are generally familiar with disability- and religious-related exemptions under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VII, but will not be familiar with “a sincerely held personal belief.” The law does not define what a “sincerely held personal belief” is, leaving employers to interpret what this broad phrase means.

Utah S.B. 2004 prohibits employers from taking “adverse action” against an employee who submits a statement based on one of the three exceptions mentioned above. “Adverse action” means an action that results in a refusal to hire a potential employee or the termination of employment, demotion, or reduction of wages of an employee. Interestingly, “adverse action” does not include the reassignment of an employee or the termination of an employee if reassignment is not practical.

Other notable aspects of S.B. 2004 include the following:

  • Employers are not permitted to keep or maintain a copy of the proof of vaccination unless they are required to by law, an established business practice requires the company to keep record thereof, or the provisions of the law do not apply to the employer.
  • Employers are permitted to record whether an employee is vaccinated.
  • Employers must pay for all COVID-19 testing an employee receives in relation to or as a condition of the employee’s presence in the workplace.
  • Employers with fewer than 15 employees who establish a nexus between the vaccine requirement and the employee’s assigned duties and responsibilities may require an employee or prospective employee to receive or show proof that they have been received a COVID-19 vaccination.
  • S.B. 2004 does not prohibit employers’ from requiring employees to undergo regular COVID-19 testing; however, it does require employers to pay the costs of any required testing.

Next Steps for Employers

Utah employers are likely to be a little bit confused with the constant changes of COVID laws on both the state and federal level. Nonetheless, here are some steps Utah employers should take:

  • Update any vaccine mandate-related policy to explicitly permit exceptions for disability-related reasons, religious beliefs, and sincerely held personal beliefs;
  • Do not retain copies of proof of vaccination unless required by law or pursuant to an established business practice or industry standard; rather, simply keep record of employee vaccination status;
  • If the employer decides to take an adverse action in relation to this law, ensure that the company is not in violation of any other law, such as Title VII. For instance, the company should ensure that the company is not taking an adverse action based on race, gender, sexual orientation, age, or in retaliation for participating in a protected activity when it reassigns an employee under circumstances permitted under this law;
  • The company, not the employee, must pay for any required COVID-19 testing; and
  • Because a “sincerely held personal belief” is not defined under Utah law, the company must ensure that it consistently applies how it defines this term and how it is applied to its employees requesting an exemption.

For more information and/or updates on the status of COVID-19 vaccine and testing laws or other employment matters, please contact Brian Tuttle and the employment counsel team at Clyde Snow.


Sign up for our latest updates.

Recent Posts

Processing the Final Paycheck for a Deceased Employee

As a business owner, you have probably encountered situations where you found yourself unprepared. Let's be honest. No matter how hard we try to anticipate future events, there will always be somewhere we find ourselves unprepared. One incident that no one is ever...

Ripple Effect 142: Gutter Bin – Stormwater Filtration

Brian Deurloo, President and Founder of Frog Creek Partners, gives us the story of his novel invention: the Gutter Bin stormwater filtration system. We learn the inspiring details of Brian's efforts to better himself and the water world. An elegantly simple and...

Ripple Effect Rewind! – Regenerative Agriculture

This week we are revisiting an earlier episode that is still highly relevant to today's water discussion. We are looking back on episode 68: Regenerative Agriculture.Shelby Smith, Master's Candidate at the UCSB Bren School of Environmental Science &...

The Guide to Getting Divorced in Utah – Grounds, Process & Key Steps

You have uttered the four words you hope never to say in your relationship: "I want a divorce." Getting a divorce can be emotionally draining, scary, and frustrating. But with an attorney's support, filing for divorce can be much easier and less intimidating. At Clyde...

Ripple Effect 141: The Water Report

Shaina Shay, Owner and Editor of The Water Report, gives us a great overview of this invaluable newsletter and her approach to water reporting. We discuss the importance of long format journalism and trends she is seeing across various water sectors. 

Related Posts