Can Employers Mandate the COVID-19 Vaccine?
By Joshua C. Black, Esq.
Vaccine requirements are common in many industries including the education and healthcare fields. With mass rollouts of the coronavirus vaccine beginning, many are left wondering "is it lawful for businesses to require employees get the COVID-19 inoculation?"
The answer is “likely yes.”
An employer can implement a mandatory vaccination program as long as it provides proper accommodates for medical objections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and religious objections under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) currently allows companies to require employees be vaccinated for the flu each year. Because of the negative impact a COVID outbreak could have on a business of any size, it will likely be considered reasonable for an employer to require workers get this vaccine as well. However, there are some exceptions.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employees who do not want to be vaccinated for medical reasons are eligible to request an exemption. To receive a medical accommodation under the ADA, employees must establish they have a covered disability.
Additionally, under the Civil Rights Act, if taking the vaccine is a violation of a sincerely held religious belief, employees could opt out of vaccine mandates with a religious exemption request. An employer isn't required to grant a religious accommodation if doing so would pose a hardship to their business.
Initially, most organizations are unlikely to make the vaccine mandatory, especially with the vaccine still in the early distribution phase. However, it’s possible many employers will strongly encourage employees to get vaccinated as part of their duty to keep coworkers, customers, and the community safe.
To begin, some businesses may urge vaccinations, versus requiring them. This strategy could have more employee buy in. Businesses might consider offering incentives for employees who get vaccinated, like gift cards or other perks, making the inoculation experience more positive than punitive.
In this unprecedented year, employers should carefully evaluate the pros and cons of requiring employees to get vaccinated, then communicate these expectations to their workforce. Businesses will need to begin outlining their stance on required vaccinations now.
Determining how to communicate these mandates with the workforce in a clear and concise manner will be essential. For some companies this may require modifications to employee handbooks and new-hire paperwork as well as in-person meetings to discuss the organization’s viewpoint on COVID-19 vaccines.
If an employee feels their religious or medical objections to any vaccination required by an employer are compromised, they should consult with an experienced employment attorney to discuss legal options and mitigate workplace issues.