As COVID-19 vaccinations are underway in the United States, companies should be reviewing their policies to prepare for when the vaccine is available to the general public.
Many are wondering about mandatory vaccination policies and exceptions for employees.
In December, the EEOC issued new guidance for employers around COVID-19 vaccinations.
So, can an employer require all employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine? According to the EEOC, yes—although there are some important exceptions.
In general, once the vaccine is available for the general public, companies can require that employees are vaccinated.
However, a company’s vaccination policy must accommodate exceptions for disabilities and religious beliefs, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
When an employee makes an accommodation request, the employer may in turn request the following:
For a disability accommodation: a certification from a health care provider regarding the issue the vaccination would cause
For a religious accommodation: an employer can ask the employee to provide limited information that details the sincerely held religious beliefs that conflict with the vaccination
If an employer cannot accommodate an employee’s request, and the employee’s lack of vaccination poses a “direct threat” to themselves or others, the EEOC reports that “the employer can exclude the employee from physically entering the workplace, but this does not mean the employer may automatically terminate the worker.” Your company will need to review if any other rights apply under the EEO laws or other federal, state, and local authorities.
In addition, any policy requiring proof of vaccination should avoid implicating the ADA by warning employees not to provide any medical information as part of the proof.
Finally, if you plan on administering the vaccine to employees, or contracting with a third-party vendor, contact your Labor and Employment counsel to maintain compliance with state and federal laws.
When deciding your company’s vaccination policies, assess how necessary the vaccine is for your business. You will need to determine the most effective way to create a safe working environment for your company, while keeping in mind any existing employment contracts or potential collective bargaining agreements.