As the more transmissible delta variant of COVID-19 continues to drive waves of infections throughout the United States, more and more businesses are requiring patrons to prove or attest to their vaccination status. The federal government has also announced plans to require businesses with one hundred or more employees to require workers to be vaccinated or submit to regular testing.
A significant portion of the country’s population has yet to be vaccinated, and some may be wondering about whether it is a crime to lie about their COVID-19 vaccination status. The answer is it depends on the situation and how the misrepresentation occurs. Below, we review what we currently know about this evolving area of criminal liability.
It May Not Be a Crime to Lie to Most Employers or Businesses
In some circumstances, people may be able to get away with misrepresenting their status to employers and businesses that only require attestation of COVID-19 vaccination. For one reason or another, many employers and businesses are not checking physical or digital vaccination records. They may only ask that you only enter a venue or office if you have been vaccinated. They may also request that you verbally confirm you have been vaccinated or check a box that attests to your status.
Lying in these scenarios most likely does not constitute a crime. However, someone does potentially open themselves up to tremendous civil liability and professional consequences if the deception is discovered. If your employer learns you misrepresented your vaccination status, they likely have the right to discipline or terminate you. If your misrepresentation led to a COVID-19 outbreak at your worksite that can be traced back to you, you could also face a civil lawsuit. It should also be noted that the Biden administration has signaled their intent to prosecute federal employees who lie about their vaccination status.
Similarly, businesses can generally kick out and ban patrons that lie about their vaccination status. Again, if it can be established that your lying about your vaccination status and consequent presence on the premises caused a COVID-19 outbreak, you could be sued in civil court.
It Is Illegal to Forge COVID-19 Vaccine Cards
It becomes much more difficult to avoid criminal liability when businesses and employers require proof of vaccination. Legitimate COVID-19 vaccination records can only be obtained by receiving the vaccine. Providers issue universal Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “vaccine cards” throughout the United States Many states and municipalities also maintain databases and issue digital passports.
Most businesses and employers are now requiring patrons and employees to present these vaccination records. Many accept the physical CDC vaccine card, a photo of the card, or a digital record from the applicable municipality. Some people have already attempted to obtain and use fake or forged vaccination records to circumvent these requirements, and many have been arrested when caught.
It is a federal crime to falsify a government seal. Vaccine cards have both the CDC and the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) seals. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) have both warned that forging a vaccine card is a criminal act that can lead to felony charges.
Criminal liability at the state level is currently less clear. Some states, including New York, have sought to explicitly make falsifying vaccination records a felony crime. While Massachusetts has yet to seek similar measures or issue any clarification on criminality at the state level, MA Attorney General Maura Healey has expressed concern about the growing proliferation of fake vaccine cards.
Until more transparency is offered, it is inadvisable to forge any type of vaccination record, including digital passports issued by your state or local municipality. Many of these passports include the state or municipality’s seals, so falsifying them could constitute counterfeiting a government document and potentially lead to forgery charges.
Consequences of Federal Forgery Convictions
A conviction in a felony forgery case can result in severe penalties and other consequences. A person caught using a falsified COVID-19 vaccine card can face stiff fines and up to five years in prison. Convicted felons also lose certain rights, including the right to vote and the right to possess firearms. Felons will also typically have a more difficult time securing housing and employment.
Our accomplished team of criminal defense lawyers has over five decades of collective experience delivering favorable results to clients. We are committed to championing the rights of our clients and can fight to protect your freedoms when you have been charged with forgery or any other type of white-collar crime.
Schedule a free initial consultation with Brad Bailey Law by calling (617) 500-0252 or contacting us online.