Businesses covered under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have the legal right to mandate that employees get a COVID-19 vaccination. More specifically, employers are entitled — and required — to ensure a safe workplace in which “an individual shall not pose a direct threat to the health or safety of individuals in the workplace.” With respect to the vaccine, the interpretation is that employers can require their personnel to be vaccinated.
The EEOC helped us understand the intersection and applicability of employment laws implicated by the availability of COVID-19 vaccinations, including the ADA, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
What Makes Employees Exempt From having to Get the COVID-19 Vaccine
The EEOC’s latest guidance regarding employees getting the COVID-19 outlines two exceptions that may exempt an employee from getting vaccinated. 1) Employees with either a disability; or 2) a sincerely held religious belief that prevents them from getting vaccinated.
If an employee raises one of these two exceptions, and the employer verifies the disability or belief, an employer must attempt to make what would be acceptable as a reasonable accommodation for the employee if possible. If that’s not possible or feasible for the business structure, and the unvaccinated employee poses a potential threat to either themselves or to others, a company has the right to exclude them from physically entering the workplace. This certainly does not mean that an employer may fire a worker who declines to be vaccinated but they could be eligible for unpaid leave or other similar entitlements under federal, state and, local laws, according to the EEOC.
Employment Law on COVID Vaccine: the Reasonable Accommodation protocol
The important takeaway is that if an employee declines to get the Covid-19 vaccination, this will trigger the employer’s requirement to determine whether a reasonable accommodation can be made for that employee to continue with their assigned duties. This “reasonable accommodation” protocol must be strictly adhered to, otherwise, employers may face heavy fines and potential lawsuits.
Employers should proceed with caution when deciding to implement vaccine mandates citing employment law and remember that guidance from public health authorities can change as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves. Continue to follow the most current information on maintaining workplace safety.
Gouchev Law has many years of employment law compliance experience. We can assist you in navigating the evolving employment laws, including the “reasonable accommodation” as it pertains to your business structure so you can have the confidence that you’re following government protocols. You can call us at (212) 537-9209 to find out about our COVID Employment Counsel package.
Here is a reference from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
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