Should I stay or should I go seems to be a question on many players’ and coaches’ minds across the NFL. According to @TomPelissero earlier this week, the NFL informed the clubs that if a game could not be rescheduled during the 2021 season due to a COVID outbreak among unvaccinated players, the team with the outbreak would forfeit the game and be credited with a loss. This news resulted in a rollercoaster of reactions across the league, from Deandre Hopkins questioning his future with the league, to Jerry Hughes publicly defending the vaccine and the scientists who created it.
While the reaction from the players across the league was fiery, the action taken by coaches deserves attention as well. As a reminder, the players are not required to receive the vaccine, but the league has made it clear that the decision to remain unvaccinated could lead to massive consequences for an entire team. However, Tier 1 staff, which includes coaches, front-office executives, equipment managers, and scouts, are required to receive the vaccine. If a Tier 1 staff member refuses the vaccine, absent a valid religious or medical reason, he/she loses their Tier 1 status and cannot be on the field, in meeting rooms, or have any interaction with players. Surely an employment condition like that will not result in any newsworthy content, right?
In the afternoon of July 23rd, 2021, Rick Dennison, OL coach and run game coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings reportedly left the team after refusing the COVID-19 vaccine, per @CourtneyRCronin. When faced with the question of whether he should stay by receiving the vaccine and maintaining tier 1 status, or go, and lose his job altogether, Dennison chose the latter.
Before there was clarity that Dennison chose to leave the team as opposed to being fired, many asked the question of whether it would be illegal if he was indeed let go by the Minnesota Vikings for his refusal to receive the vaccine. The short answer is no. Minnesota, like the majority of the United States, is an at-will employment state. At-will employment is an employer’s ability to fire an employee without reason or warning, except for reasons such as an employee’s race, religion, sex, national origin, age, or disability. The policy reasons for at-will employment are that if an employee is free to resign from a job without reason or warning, then an employer deserves the same right.
Here, Dennison chose to leave the Minnesota Vikings, as he refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine, which is his right. If it was the other way around, and the Minnesota Vikings fired Dennison for his decision, it would be their right as well.