As many employers continue to require their employees to get immunized against the coronavirus, soap opera actor Steve Burton said he was terminated from the show “General Hospital” after declining to get the vaccine.
Burton, who portrayed character Jason Morgan on the medical drama, announced Tuesday in an Instagram video that “unfortunately, ‘General Hospital’ has let me go because of the vaccine mandate.”
Burton said that he applied for medical and religious exemptions but that they were denied.
“This is also about personal freedom to me,” he said. “I don’t think anybody should lose their livelihood over this.”
The Washington Post has confirmed that Burton is no longer on “General Hospital” and did not comply with the production’s vaccine mandate.
Burton joins others in Hollywood and elsewhere who have been fired or quit over vaccine requirements. Earlier this month, Burton’s former colleague Ingo Rademacher was reportedly fired from the show for the same reason. Rapper-actor Ice Cube recently turned down a role in an upcoming comedy co-starring Jack Black because producers wanted him to get vaccinated, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
Coronavirus vaccine mandates have been a contentious topic this past year and have triggered political and legal debates across the country. Laws vary at the local, state and federal levels — and may continue to evolve.
But employment attorney Kevin Troutman said federal laws and most state laws do permit employers to require vaccination as long as they provide medical and religious exemptions or accommodations under certain circumstances. Troutman, who said he could not speak directly about Burton’s case, said that means when employees fail to comply without receiving an accommodation, they can be terminated.
One federal rule will require federal employees, government contractors and health-care workers to get the shots.
But Troutman said that as the situation has evolved, some states — such as Florida, Montana, Tennessee and Texas — have passed measures restricting employer-issued vaccine mandates, further complicating matters. He said that although federal law would probably supersede conflicting state laws, it has not been tested in court.
“So it’s gotten to be a much more complicated evaluation and you really have to look at all of those areas before you can make a decision as an employer, just to make sure that you’re on solid footing from a legal standpoint,” said Troutman, who chairs the vaccine team at his firm, Fisher Phillips.
As for exemptions, Troutman said those are assessed under laws such as the Americans With Disabilities Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, religion and sex), as well as under guidance from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He said it is an individualized evaluation in which the employer has to decide whether the employee “can still perform the essential functions of their job without posing a direct threat of harm in the workplace.”
Just because an employee applies for an exemption does not mean he or she automatically qualifies, he said.
Burton appeared on “General Hospital” from 1991 to 2012 before a stint on another soap opera, “The Young and the Restless.” He returned to “General Hospital” in 2017. His last episode was filmed on Oct. 27.
In 1998, Burton won a Daytime Emmy for outstanding supporting actor in a drama series for his character on the show, according to IMDb.
In his recent video, Burton said he was grateful for the time he had spent on “General Hospital.”
“Maybe one day if these mandates are lifted, I can return and finish my career as Jason Morgan. That would be an honor,” he said. “And if not, I’m going to take this amazing experience, move forward and be forever grateful.”
Lindsey Bever is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post, covering national news with an emphasis on health. She was previously a reporter at the Dallas Morning News.