STORM LAKE, Iowa (KCAU) — An Iowa judge has ruled that a Siouxland hospital administrator is not entitled to collect unemployment after being fired for multiple refusals to comply with mask policies.
According to documents from the unemployment hearing, Joshua Braunschweig was fired from Buena Vista Regional Medical Center in Storm Lake in January 2022. He had been employed with the healthcare facility for nearly 10 years, serving as a systems administrator.
Evidence presented at Braunschweig’s unemployment hearing showed that he had a private office in the hospital but would have passing contact with other employees during the day.
When Braunschweig learned in the spring of 2020 that he would be required to wear a mask in the hospital except while working alone in his office, he allegedly requested a religious exemption. He later agreed to wear a mask with a clear front panel on it. The documents stated that he was informed twice of the policies on wearing a mask before they had come to a compromise.
In May 2020, Braunschweig would allegedly go on to avoid the COVID-screening station by the entrance of the building. Employees were required to comply with the screening before entering, but he allegedly refused to participate in the screening despite being told to.
He was given a written warning in September 2020 for refusing to wear a mask despite the agreement between him and the hospital. He had been asked to wear a mask multiple times and was warned that additional violations could result in being fired, according to the documents.
When the hospital approved a vaccine requirement for employees in the fall of 2021, Braunschweig requested an exemption that was granted on the condition that he wear a Max Air Shield. The face shield filtered the air around him, according to the documents.
Braunschweig allegedly complied with the stipulations of the grant until January 13, 2022, when he left his private office without a mask or helmet. He went into a lab to be tested for COVID-19 which was required for a scheduled surgery the following day. A colleague was stated to have asked him to wear a mask, but he allegedly stated that he did not have to wear a mask because he was on break. He continued to refuse to wear a mask even when his manager was called down and asked him to wear a mask. The documents stated that he was fired an unspecified amount of time after the incident.
During the unemployment hearing, Braunschweig allegedly told the judge that by wearing the helmet he would be unable to hear his name called when it was time for the exam. He then mentioned that he was on break, therefore didn’t have to comply, and that he was allegedly targeted by hospital staff because of his religious beliefs. He allegedly told the judge that he had secretly recorded conversations that supported his claim, but he did not present the recordings as evidence. He also stated that he knew of other employees who did not wear a mask, but they received no disciplinary action for not doing so.
Officials with Buena Vista Regional denied the allegations of targeting Braunschweig and indicated that they “bent over backward” to accommodate his wishes after his refusal to wear a mask and the vaccine.
The documents stated that the judge ruled against Braunschweig, indicating that “just because an employee is not actively performing his job duties while on the premises does not mean employer rules no longer apply” and he should have worked in the best interest of the hospital.