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Employers may require the COVID vaccine

On Behalf of | Dec 8, 2020 | Employment Law |

The pandemic will likely be with us for several more months before the average worker can get their vaccine. While the risk of getting sick can be steep, some employees may doubt the vaccine’s effectiveness, object to vaccinations or have concerns about a vaccine rushed to market so quickly.

According to the Pew Research Center, four in 10 Americans currently stated that they would “definitely not” or “probably not” get the vaccine. This is a higher percentage than a few months ago (and that number may further climb as the pandemic goes on). Still, it does not meet the goal of 70% of the population being vaccinated or having natural antibodies that experts believe is needed to create herd immunity.

Do employers have a say?

There is little doubt that those working in healthcare (which often requires staff to get an annual flu shot) will need to be vaccinated to work, but other companies may make the vaccine mandatory as well.

Can they enforce vaccinations?

From the business’s perspective, a fully vaccinated staff could be a way for businesses to return to normal in 2021, particularly if employees typically come in contact with the general public while on the job. Employers have extensive rights and can mandate that employees are vaccinated, particularly regarding health and safety in the workplace.

The reasons for this can include advertising that a bar or restaurant offers a safe virus-free environment for customers and staff, or because they want to accelerate their economic recovery. Whatever the rationale, employers who mandate the vaccine cannot be held liable for any side effects; however, employees may be able to file an illness or injury claim and receive workers’ compensation for strong side effects, since they would technically be work-related.

Notable exceptions to a mandate

There are some exceptions to a vaccination mandate by an employer:

  • A unionized workforce with a collective bargaining agreement may need approval before an employer can mandate vaccines for employees.
  • Workers who fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act may be exempt.
  • Workers who cite medical reasons can request accommodations, such as working remotely.
  • Religious grounds protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 could be cited if beliefs are “sincerely held.”

Coming to an understanding

Protocols may evolve in the coming weeks and months as the rollout of the vaccine develops. Employers may try motivating staff by enforcing fewer safety precautions (i.e. mask use, temperature checks) in the workplace, and some may even offer bonuses. While employers seem to have the upper hand, it is important to note that they still cannot violate a worker’s rights protected by law.