- The EEOC says employers can require employees get a COVID-19 vaccine or ban them from the office.
- One lawyer predicts that most employers will strongly suggest, not require, vaccination.
- There are still unanswered questions about what else employers can require of workers when it comes to workplace safety.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Employers can legally require employees get a COVID-19 vaccine or ban them from the office, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) said in a recent guidance.
As the first doses of coronavirus vaccines are given to healthcare workers and other high risk groups, many employees around the country officially have an answer to the question: Can my boss legally require that I get the COVID-19 vaccine?
Pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna have each said that their vaccine is about 95% effective. American healthcare workers received the first COVID-19 vaccines on Monday, soon after Pfizer became the first candidate to receive emergency authorization in the US from the Food and Drug Administration, shortly followed by Moderna’s vaccine.
Business Insider spoke with six labour and employment lawyers about whether workplaces can make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for their employees.
Can bosses make a coronavirus vaccination mandatory at the workplace?
Workers likely first want to know what exactly their employers can require of them. In short, yes, employers can make vaccines mandatory, Jimmy Robinson, managing shareholder at the L&E firm Ogletree Deakins’s Richmond office, told Business Insider. He also mentioned that there would need to be religious and medical accommodations, with specific requirements varying by state and locale.
Karla Grossenbacher, chair of Seyfarth Shaw’s L&E practice in Washington, DC, said that employers would have to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA says that employers can require medical exams and vaccinations of employees under certain, specific conditions, like for healthcare workers, or if it poses a “direct threat” to the person if they are exempted, Grossenbacher said.
The EEOC, which enforces civil rights laws against workplace discrimination, has categorised COVID-19 as a direct threat. This designation allows employers to require temperature takes, masks, and social distancing. The federal agency has clarified that employers can mandate vaccination for employees, saying “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.” Medical examinations, including COVID-19 antibody testing, are not limited by the EEOC.
There are still many questions lawyers don’t yet know how to answer.
With a limited number of vaccines available, the general public will not be able to get the shots for months. In the meantime, workers have other questions about what employers can ask of them.
Nathaniel Glasser, a partner at Epstein Becker Green, said his clients are asking if they can restrict employees from attending large gatherings, or if employees can be required to come into work if they feel it is unsafe. Thomas Wassel, a partner at the law firm Cullen and Dykman on Long Island, said that in many cases employees do have to come to work, but it depends on specific circumstances.
The Biden administration may also release more guidance or legislation on workplace safety, which could answer some of these questions. Each question also depends on the specifics of the vaccine and the employee’s particular job, so many questions are impossible to answer this early.