Washington State football coach Nick Rolovich's status unclear ahead of Monday vaccine deadline

PULLMAN (Wash.) -- Washington State football coach Nick Rolovich stated that he was not updated on the status his religious exemption request to be compliant with the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
Rolovich could be denied employment if there is no resolution.

"I'm going to come to work tomorrow... Rolovich stated that he doesn't believe this is in his hands. "So, I have been working on this for a while and I believe that it will work out in the right direction.

He made his comments moments after Stanford beat the Cougars 34-31 on Saturday. This extended their winning streak to three games. Players were quick to pour a bucket of Gatorade near midfield.

Rolovich initially said that he would comply with Washington's expanded mandate for vaccines. However, he later confirmed that he had applied for a religious exemption in order to not be vaccinated. For weeks, he has been repeatedly asked to explain his position but he has refused to do so.

Rolovich stated that it has been three to four months. "So, it's become a routine. These children are amazing. They are so much fun to be around. They are putting their all into this university. They have a great bond that they will remember for the rest their lives. It's quite special.

There are still a few ways Rolovich could end up in this situation before Monday's deadline.

Before anything can occur, the Washington State University committee that is responsible for reviewing all religious exemption requests must evaluate the Rolovich request. The process is blind, which means that the committee won't have access to any employee's information as it makes its decision. This blind process ensures equal treatment for all employees. Phil Weiler, a spokesperson for WSU, said that at least two persons must review each application in order to determine the legality of religious exemption. However, it is unlikely they will reach Rolovich's before Monday.

Weiler stated that employees who didn't get their last shot by Oct. 4, the last day to allow enough time for them to be fully vaccinated, or were slow in filing the exemption request could lose it processing time.

Weiler stated that Wednesday's Weiler had communicated to employees for a very long time that they needed to submit an exemption request as soon as possible in order to get a decision before [being unable] to start work on Oct. 19. If there is a rush at the end, and the committee can't work through them all in time to make a decision, the employee will not be allowed to work for the university.

Rolovich can either take vacation accrued until a resolution is reached or be placed on leave if his request is not processed by Monday. Rolovich has not yet indicated when he requested the exemption.

Rolovich would also have the right to appeal against the decision of the committee if he is denied. This process doesn't have a time limit.

Rolovich would lose his job if the committee denied Rolovich's request. It is possible that the school will refuse to pay the remainder of Rolovich's contract, triggering a legal battle.

Rolovich earns an annual salary of approximately $3 million. $2 million is his base salary. His contract stipulates that he would be paid 60% of his base salary if he was to be fired without cause.

It is not clear what would happen if Rolovich is denied his request and then he changes his mind and agrees to be vaccinated. The mandate would prohibit him from performing his job for at most 14 days. This is the minimum time required to get fully vaccinated by Johnson & Johnson.

His request for approval does not mean he will be WSU's next coach. In such a scenario, his approval would be sent to the university's Human Resources department. This would inform Pat Chun, the athletic director.

"The supervisor must determine if the person can really fulfill their responsibilities and perform their duties in a manner that protects the public. Weiler said. "And then, the supervisor makes a decision. If they either say yes, the exemption will be granted. If they refuse to say yes, then the exemption will be denied.

Rolovich is the highest-paid state employee. Other university leaders, including Kirk Schulz, would have to make the decision about whether accommodations can be made.

"In general, statutes such as Title VII of The Civil Rights Act or the Washington Law Against Discrimination require employers to reasonably accommodate their employees' sincere religion beliefs, so long as the accommodation doesn't impose an undue burden upon the employer," Charlotte Garden (associate law professor at Seattle University School of Law) said in an email. She is an expert in labor- and employment law and a law professor at Seattle University School of Law. "A typical [non-pandemic-related] accommodation might involve an employer partially waiving its rules on employee dress to allow an employee to wear a religiously mandated head covering, or an employer allowing an employee to take breaks at certain times in order to pray.

"It is much more difficult to apply this standard within the context of the mandate for covid vaccine."

WSU leadership could have already received the decision of the committee and decided on a course, but has not yet informed Rolovich. Chun and Schultz have not given any indications as to whether the university is willing or able to accommodate Rolovich, if he is granted exemption.

Rolovich stated that he has not received any information from Chun about how the process will unfold if he is granted his request.

Rolovich stated, "If that's what [Chun] doesn't want, then then I guess that that then I need to, I have to move on." "But I like being here. It's a pleasure to be the coach. These kids are my family. It's amazing that I have faith in it.

An additional problem to an already unusual situation is the fact that Rolovich's coaching staff includes multiple coaches who are not vaccinated according to multiple sources. They face the same exemption process and are subject to the same exclusion process as their head coach. The number of coaches on Rolovich's staff is not known.

Rolovich will continue to be the team's coach if he is granted an exemption by university leadership and he proves that he is capable of fulfilling his responsibilities and meeting the public safety obligation.

WSU has not given any examples of what qualifies for a religious exemption. Rolovich would have had to attest that his "sincerely held religious belief" was in conflict with the vaccine requirements as part of the application process.

Although no major religious denomination opposes COVID-19 vaccines, that does not affect what can be considered a deeply held belief.

Rolovich was available via Zoom following Saturday's match, and he will speak to the media Monday.

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