Hospital administrator who violated COVID restrictions loses bid for jobless benefits

By: - May 11, 2022 3:32 pm

An Iowa hospital administrator who repeatedly violated COVID-19 mitigation policies before being fired has been denied jobless benefits. (Photo by Getty Images)

A western Iowa hospital administrator who refused the COVID vaccine, refused to be screened for the virus, and refused to wear a mask is not entitled to collect jobless benefits after being fired, an Iowa judge has ruled.

State records show Joshua Braunschweig was employed by Buena Vista Regional Medical Center in Storm Lake as a systems administrator for more than eight years, from late 2013 through January 2022 when he was fired.

According to evidence presented at Braunschweig’s recent unemployment hearing, he had a private office in the hospital but had regular, passing contact with patients and other employees throughout the workday.

In the spring of 2020, Braunschweig was informed he had to be masked while in the hospital except while working inside his office. He initially requested a religious exemption to the masking requirement, but then agreed to wear a mask with a clear front panel on it.

A short time later, he bypassed the COVID-screening station used by employees to enter the building, and then refused a directive to participate in the screening.

In September 2020, he was given a written warning for refusing to wear his mask when requested and was cautioned that additional violations could result in his dismissal.

In the fall of 2021, the hospital approved a vaccine requirement for employees. Braunschweig requested an exemption, which was granted on the condition that he wear a Max Air shield, which consisted of a helmet with a clear face covering that essentially filtered air for him.

Braunschweig agreed, but on Jan. 13 of this year, he left his private office without a mask or the helmet and walked to a laboratory within the hospital to have a COVID-19 test performed so he could be cleared for surgery the following day. When a colleague instructed him to wear a mask, he refused, saying he was on a break and didn’t have to comply. He then he sat down in a lobby area waiting to be called for his test. He was fired shortly thereafter.

At the hearing on his request for unemployment benefits, Braunschweig gave what the judge later called “conflicting explanations” for his actions – first arguing that he wouldn’t be able to hear his name called while wearing his helmet, and then claiming that because he was on break he was not required to wear a mask or his helmet. He also argued that he had been targeted by the hospital for his religious beliefs.

Hospital officials denied that and said they had “bent over backward” to accommodate Braunschweig after he refused to wear a mask and then refused the vaccine.

Noting that Braunschweig’s employer was a health care facility, Administrative Law Judge Jennifer Beckman ruled recently that “just because an employee is not actively performing his job duties while on the premises does not mean employer rules no longer apply.”

Braunschweig “knew or should have known his conduct was contrary to the best interests” of the hospital, Beckman ruled in denying Braunschweig’s application for unemployment benefits.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.