Employers Can Require COVID-19 Vaccination, with Exceptions

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – With vaccines starting to make their way to frontline workers, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued guidance on whether employers can require workers to receive the vaccination.

By and large, the answer is “yes,” says Martin Boetcher, a partner at Harrington Hoppe & Mitchell focusing on employment law. 

There are exceptions, however. 

“The exceptions include employees who can’t receive the COVID vaccination due to medical reasons.  Such employees can likely request exceptions under the Americans with Disabilities Act,” he wrote in a post on the law firm’s website Monday. “Similarly, employees who claim that a COVID vaccination would violate their deeply held religious beliefs could also request exceptions. Employers must attempt to provide reasonable accommodations to employees in these situations.”

If an employee claims he can’t receive the COVID-19 vaccine because of either of these exemptions, employers should conduct a personalized assessment to determine if they “pose a direct threat to health and safety of others” and if they could expose others to the coronavirus while at work.

If the risk can’t “be reduced or eliminated through a reasonable accommodation,” employers can exclude the worker from the workplace and have them work remotely, when possible.

“If there is a direct threat to the health or safety of others that cannot be reduced to an acceptable level, the employer can exclude the unvaccinated employee from physically entering the workplace but this does not mean the employer may automatically terminate the employee,” he writes.

The guidelines from the employment commission direct employers to look toward recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control in deciding whether or not an “effective accommodation” is possible.

“When an employer considers such a decision, the facts about particular job duties and workplaces may be relevant,” he concludes. “Employers should seek advice from their legal counsel if they intend to require their employees to receive a COVID vaccination.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.