Can employers make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory?


The short answer is “Yes,” with some exceptions.

With millions of people out of work and millions of others forced to work from home, the pandemic has reshaped the nation’s labor force. As the unemployed look ahead to getting hired and remote employees prepare for a return to the workplace, many are contemplating the same question: Could they eventually be required to get a COVID-19 vaccination if they want to keep their jobs?

Experts say employers can require employees to take safety measures, including vaccination. That doesn’t necessarily mean you would get fired if you refuse, but you might need to sign a waiver or agree to work under specific conditions to limit any risk you might pose to yourself or others.

Employers generally have wide scope to make rules for the workplace, said one law expert. It’s their business. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has allowed companies to mandate the flu and other vaccines, and has also indicated they can require COVID-19 vaccines.

There are exceptions; for example, people can request exemptions for medical or religious reasons. And even though employers can require vaccinations, there are reasons they might not want to.

Tracking compliance with mandatory vaccination would be an administrative burden. Employers would also have to manage exemption requests — not to mention legal claims that might arise. As a result, many employers will likely strongly encourage vaccination without requiring it.

The ADA has restrictions on when and how much medical information an employer may obtain from any applicant or employee.

On Dec. 16, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) confirmed that a COVID-19 vaccination requirement by itself would not violate Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). That law prohibits employers from conducting some types of medical examinations.

“If a vaccine is administered to an employee by an employer for protection against contracting COVID-19, the employer is not seeking information about an individual’s impairments or current health status and, therefore, it is not a medical examination,” the EEOC says.

There is a possible liability for employers in requiring vaccination, however. If the vaccine goes sideways and creates harm to the employee, there would probably be a workers compensation claim against the employer. And, of course, some kind of claim against the vaccine manufacturer.



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