Longtime college football and basketball reporter Allison Williams announced over the weekend she is leaving ESPN because of the company’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
Williams made the announcement in a video posted to Instagram on Friday, saying that her “request for accommodation” to forgo COVID-19 vaccination was denied by ESPN and parent Walt Disney Co.
necessitating a decision on her part:
“‘Ultimately, I cannot put a paycheck over principle, and I will not sacrifice something that I believe and hold so strongly to maintain a career.’”
— Allison Williams
Disney announced in July that all salaried and nonunion hourly employees in the U.S. working at any of its sites had to get vaccinated against COVID-19 within 60 days.
ESPN told MarketWatch via email that the company would not “comment on an individual,” but it is “going through a thorough review of accommodation requests on a case-by-case basis, and are granting accommodations consistent with our legal obligations. Our focus is on a safe work environment for everyone.”
U.S. employers can legally require their employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine, according to guidance from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
If an employee is requesting an exemption to an employer mandate based on religious belief or disability, employers have a legal obligation to provide a reasonable accommodation — like allowing an employee to work remotely or go on unpaid leave. But an employer can refuse a requested accommodation if it poses an undue hardship, like a significant expense or difficulty.
For example, it might be challenging to accommodate a sideline reporter who cannot report from the sideline if they are not allowed in the stadium due to proof-of-vaccination requirements from schools, programs or stadiums.
Williams announced in September that she would not be receiving the vaccine over concerns that it would affect her fertility.
“While my work is incredibly important to me, the most important role I have is as a mother,” she wrote at the time. “Throughout our family planning with our doctor, as well as a fertility specialist, I have decided not to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at this time while my husband and I try for a second child.”
Williams again echoed that sentiment in her Instagram video, saying that women reached out to her after she made the announcement, some who had successful pregnancies after receiving the vaccine and some who did not.
“To the women who have reached out and shared their experiences of getting the injection and subsequent miscarriages, menstrual irregularities, periods after menopause — I am so sorry that that is your experience, and I pray for you. And I believe you,” she said.
Analysis done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed no increased risks of miscarriage for people who received at least one dose of the Pfizer
vaccine before 20 weeks of pregnancy. The analysis found a miscarriage rate of around 13%, within the normal range.
The CDC has also urged pregnant people to receive the vaccine, as expectant women run a higher risk of severe illness and pregnancy complications from the coronavirus, including miscarriages and stillbirths.
“The vaccines are safe and effective, and it has never been more urgent to increase vaccinations as we face the highly transmissible delta variant and see severe outcomes from COVID-19 among unvaccinated pregnant people,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.
Other experts agree that research shows the COVID-19 vaccine does not affect women’s fertility or ability to get pregnant.