As the production and distribution of the recently developed COVID-19 vaccine increases, many people may wonder whether their employer can require them to get the vaccine. The general rule is yes – with some exceptions.
Under employment law, employers have the right and ability to maintain the health and safety within the workspace. This includes requiring employees to get vaccinated against diseases that could affect the health and safety of the workplace. Further, on December 16, the Equal Opportunity Commission, the federal agency in charge of enforcing laws prohibiting discrimination in the workplace, said that employers can require employees to get vaccinated for COVID-19 before entering the workplace.
However, there are some exceptions for this rule. The first is a religious exemption. If the employee has a sincerely held religious belief that does not allow vaccination’s, the employer cannot require that the employee get vaccinated. The second exception is a disability related exemption. If an employee has a disability and cannot safely receive a vaccine, that employee qualifies for an exemption from the requirement to take the vaccine.
WHAT IF EMPLOYEE QUALIFIES FOR EXEMPTION?
If the employee qualifies for a either exemption, the employer must make a reasonable effort to accommodate the employee. However, the employer does not have to provide an accommodation that would result in undue hardship. For example, a reasonable accommodation for an employee who qualifies for an exemption could be something as simple as switching the employee from in-person work to remote work. If the employer cannot provide an accommodation, then the employer has the right to exclude the employee from going to the workplace and in some cases, may be able to terminate the employee if an accommodation is unattainable.
SHOULD YOUR EMPLOYER REQUIRE THE COVID-19 VACCINE?
Now that we know an employer has the ability to require the vaccine, not including the exceptions, the bigger question is whether your employer should mandate the vaccine. Tracking compliance with a mandatory vaccination requirement for larger organizations could be an administrative burden. The same can be said about managing exemption requests. However, the bigger concern with requiring employees to get the vaccine is the potential for legal claims if there were negative side effects caused by the vaccine.
The Government has stated that if an individual has an adverse reaction to the vaccine, they cannot sue the manufacturer. They may be able to file a claim with an obscure government agency called Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program (CICP), but the odds of collecting are not good. It means that the employee is limited to suing the employer if the employer required the vaccine. If the employer did not require, or make an accommodation, the employee would not have a claim.
Should you get the vaccine? If you have questions or concerns, ask your doctor. There is a lot of misinformation floating around the internet. Do not let the misinformation keep you from protecting yourself and your loved ones.