Can your work require you to get a COVID vaccine?

can your work require a covid vaccine
Photo via Craige Moore/Flickr (CC BY ND 2.0)

People have been wondering whether places of employment could require COVID-19 vaccines before they were even a reality. And now that there are several vaccines on the market that have been proven safe and effective, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has ruled that yes, your work can require you to get a COVID vaccine without violating federal laws.

The agency released a statement on May 28 outlining the new guidelines, stating that employers cannot be prevented from requiring all employees who physically enter the workplace to be vaccinated. At the same time, businesses must also comply with the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as any other considerations.  

Employers are also permitted to offer incentives to employees in exchange for getting vaccinated or providing vaccination documentation, as long as the incentives are not coercive. Due to pre-vaccination disability-related screening questions, significant or coercive incentives could make employees feel pressured to disclose private medical information.

“The updated technical assistance released today addresses frequently asked questions concerning vaccinations in the employment context,” said EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows in the statement. “The EEOC will continue to clarify and update our COVID-19 technical assistance to ensure that we are providing the public with clear, easy to understand, and helpful information.”

Does the Civil Rights Act of 1964 factor into your work requiring you to get a COVID vaccine?

Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits religious discrimination in the workplace in that employers must make “reasonable accommodations” for employees who will not or cannot get vaccinated because of religious beliefs. The ADA likewise requires that reasonable accommodations be made for those with disabilities.

The EEOC guidances state that employers should “thoroughly consider all possible reasonable accommodations” for exempt employees, including COVID-19 testing, working at a social distance from coworkers or non-employees, modified shifts, telework, and even reassignment.

However, under title Title VII, “employers are not required to accommodate religious employees if doing so involves more than a de minimis, or minimal cost.” Essentially, reasonable accommodations can not pose an undue hardship on a business’s operation.  

And for obvious reasons, the risks of having an unimmunized workforce present more than just a potential “minimal cost” to employers.

Misinformation circulating on social media has also suggested that employers requiring proof of vaccination are a “violation of privacy and property rights” protected by federal law under the Fourth Amendment. In essence, they say your work can’t require you to get the COVID vaccine.

But this is simply not true, as legal experts say that the amendment refers to unreasonable searches and seizures by the government and “not by private entities.”

“The Fourth Amendment only applies to governmental searches and seizures and certainly not to businesses asking for proof of vaccination,” Lawrence Gostin, a law professor at Georgetown University who specializes in public health law, told USA Today.

In addition to workplaces, many schools and colleges are already starting to require mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations. Some countries are also requiring vaccine passports to travel across borders—and despite the best efforts of conservative politicians, the United States may not be far behind.

Sources: EEOC, USA Today

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