In a recent blog post, we asked whether employers could make their workers get the coronavirus vaccine. Unfortunately, the answer was not so simple, in large part because the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) had not settled the issue with a binding regulation.
A few days ago, the EEOC spoke. It said that, in most cases, employers can mandate vaccinations in their employees.
EEOC: Generally, Employers Can Mandate Vaccines in Employees
On December 16, the EEOC posted a publication, “What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws.” The publication aimed to resolve important disputes at the intersection of these laws, including the all-important one that employers have been asking for weeks: Whether they could require their workers to get inoculated for the coronavirus.
In the publication, the EEOC said that, yes, employers usually had the power to require their employees to get the vaccine. Employers have an obligation to provide their workers with a safe workplace. Because an unvaccinated worker would pose a direct threat to the health and safety of others, employers have the power to require vaccines in its workforce.
However, there are limitations to that power under a variety of federal employment laws.
Accommodations and Examinations under the ADA
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is one of these laws.
If an employee has a disability that prevents them from getting vaccinated, the employer has to make reasonable accommodations that do not create an undue hardship. In some cases, this can involve letting the employee work remotely.
However, workers who rely on the ADA's protections may have hoped that an employer's vaccine requirement would amount to a “medical examination” that violates the law. These workers will be disappointed by the EEOC's guidance. It specifically said that receiving the vaccination from an employer “is not a medical examination” because it would not seek information about the employee's current health or disabilities. Pre-screening vaccination questions, though, may implicate the ADA.
Religious Belief Accommodations
Another limitation on an employer's ability to require vaccines in its workforce is Title VII.
When a worker has a sincerely held religious belief that prevents them from getting vaccinated, employers have to make reasonable accommodations for them, as well. If the employee asks for a religious exemption, but the employer has reasonable basis for doubting their religious claims, the employer can ask for more information about the worker's claim.
Massachusetts Employment Litigation Lawyers at the Katz Law Group
Requiring coronavirus vaccinations in the workplace is going to be one of the most contested employment law issues in the coming months. Employers and most employees want to keep their workplaces safe. However, 18% of Americans have said that they would definitely not get vaccinated.
The employment litigation lawyers at the Katz Law Group can help employers manage this difficult situation without violating their workers' federal rights. Contact them online or call their law office at (508) 480-8202 for help in Massachusetts, including in Worcester, Marlborough, and Framingham.