#Coronavirus vaccines have been developed, and as states begin a phased roll-out to administer the vaccination - it's important to understand whether or not employers can require immunization against COVID-19 as a term of employment.
Short answer is YES. With exceptions.
This information is based on the current guidelines for vaccines against communicable diseases and the flu. Specific rules for COVID vaccinations may be forthcoming.
The U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) states that U.S. employers can require employees to take influenza vaccines. But it emphasize that employees “need to be properly informed of the benefits of vaccinations.” To-date, while the healthcare industry requires its employees to immunize, it has been rare for companies outside of healthcare to require vaccinations as a term and condition of employment.
That may change when the COVID vaccine is widely available to the general public.
"Employers may require vaccines before employees return to the worksite if the failure to be vaccinated constitutes a direct threat to other employees in the workplace..."
- Robin Samuel, an attorney with Baker McKenzie in Los Angeles
The short answer is YES.
Medical exemptions: Employees can refuse a vaccination if they have a reasonable belief that they possess a medical condition that would create serious illness, harm, or a severe reaction to the vaccine. These workers may be protected under a provision in the Occupational Safety & Health Act of 1970.
Disability: Employees can also claim exemption from receiving an employer-required vaccination under the protection of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under the ADA, which prohibits discrimination based on #disability, employees would not be required to take a vaccine if they have a medical condition that makes it unsafe for them to receive it. With this law, employers must reasonably accommodate employees with disabilities.
Religious beliefs: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that employers can accommodate employee’s opposition to vaccinations should it conflict with their “sincerely-held religious beliefs.” To qualify for such an exemption employee’s are required to provide written documentation to their employers.
Employers - especially companies in public-facing industries, have a lot to consider with this highly contagious illness. But given the limited availability, and that COVID vaccines currently being administered are under emergency use authorization (not yet fully approved by the FDA) it may be some time before workplaces mandate the vaccine to its workers.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) advises that its best practice is to encourage employees to take a vaccine rather than to mandate it entirely.
What are your thoughts on vaccine requirements? Share your thoughts in the comments below.