Can your employer require you to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

a workplace desk filled with computers - can your employer require a vaccine
Photo via Raúl Santos de la Cámara/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced Dec. 16 that companies have the legal right to mandate that employees get a COVID-19 vaccine. According to CBS News’ report on the announcement, employers are entitled—and required—to ensure a safe workplace in which “an individual shall not pose a direct threat to the health or safety of individuals in the workplace.” So, yes, your employer can require a vaccine.

The article stipulated that, “The Americans with Disabilities Act limits an employer’s ability to require workers to get a medical examination. But the EEOC’s latest guidance clarifies that getting vaccinated does not constitute a medical exam. As a result, ordering employees to get a COVID-19 shot would not violate the ADA.”

However, the ADA can protect workers who might be adversely affected by getting a COVID-19 vaccine. 

As Bloomberg noted, “The Americans with Disabilities Act allows a worker to request an exemption from a vaccine mandate if she has a disability that’s covered by the law. In such a case, the employer must communicate with the worker to determine whether an exemption is a reasonable accommodation given her disability and job responsibilities—and isn’t an undue burden for the employer. Failing to engage in that process or provide a reasonable accommodation could be grounds for a lawsuit.” 

CBS News’ report also noted, “Not all employees must get vaccinated, according to the agency. Employees with either a disability or ‘sincerely held’ religious beliefs that prevent them from getting inoculated are exempt, according to the EEOC, which is charged with enforcing laws against workplace discrimination.” 

Bloomberg, however, added another layer to the legal interpretation over that potential objection to an employer requiring a vaccine. It reported, “Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits workplace discrimination based on religion, giving workers the right to seek an exception to a vaccination mandate based on religious beliefs. The EEOC defines religion beyond membership in a church or belief in God. Religion for the purposes of federal anti-discrimination law covers strongly and sincerely held moral or ethical beliefs, according to the agency. But employers can deny religious accommodations if they would create an undue burden.” 

The news comes as the first vaccine approved for use in the U.S., developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, is beginning to be distributed to healthcare workers throughout the nation. While recent polls indicate that more Americans are now willing to get the coronavirus vaccine than they were three months ago, 15% of those surveyed still assert they’ll refuse to take the vaccine. 

Read more on the coronavirus vaccine:

Sources: CBS News, Bloomberg

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