Can Employers Require That Employees Get the Covid-19 Vaccine?

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The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has updated its guidance related to workplace COVID-19 vaccination policies. While the commission didn’t answer all questions related to workplace vacations, they clarified some issues for employers requiring or encouraging employees to get vaccinated. Read on to learn more if employers require COVID-19 vaccine is legal or unjust. 

Some key points discussed by the EEOC are highlighted below.

Reasonable Accommodations if Employers require COVID-19 vaccine

While employers may require employees who physically enter worksites to receive a COVID-19 vaccination, employers must consider accommodations for employees with disability-related exemptions or religious views that prohibit vaccinations. However, if such accommodations pose undue hardships on employer’s operations, they don’t have to accommodate them.

The EEOC did specifically discuss pregnancy-related COVID-19 accommodations. Pregnant employees may seek job modifications, such as telework, work schedule assignment changes or even leave to the extent that employers can provide the same accommodations to other employees in similar roles.  

An employee who decides not to get the COVID-19 vaccination must notify the employer that they need an exemption or adjust their work schedule.

It is always recommended that before a company institutes a mandatory vaccination policy, they should seek legal counsel and then provide information to managers and supervisors about how to handle accommodation requests best.

Offering Incentives if  Employers Require COVID-19 Vaccine

The EEOC did confirm that employers are legally permitted to offer vacation incentives to employees. However, there are some key points that employers need to understand.

If employers request proof that their employees received the vaccination on their own is NOT considered a disability inquiry under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which means that employers are permitted to offer such incentives.

If the employer contracts or administers the vaccine to employees, the incentive to obtain the vaccination must not be considered so substantial that it is seen as coercive. Prescreening medical questions are required to administer the COVID-19 vaccine, but these are also prohibited under ADA unless answering medical questions is voluntary. Since the agency did not provide examples of what is considered coercive, it may be best that employers request voluntary confirmation that employees received their vaccinations from outside providers. 

Disparate Impact

Employers should also keep in mind that a vaccination mandate may have more significant barriers to receiving the vaccine. This disparate impact can relate to discrimination based on age, national origin, color, race, sex, religion or another protected category.

Maintaining Confidentiality

The ADA strictly requires that employers maintain the utmost confidentiality for medical records, extending to vaccination status. 

For more information about mandatory vaccinations in the workplace, read The National Law Review. If you’re interviewing and want to know if you can ask potential applicants if they’ve had the vaccine, read more

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