Can employers require workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

July 29, 2021

Businesses and organizations seeking to maintain safety in the workplace during the pandemic and following the laws set out in the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), are able to require employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19.

“OSHA requires that businesses and organizations provide and maintain a safe working environment for their employees. COVID-19 vaccines are in keeping with this requirement, so long as the employer follows the rules laid out in the ADA,” said Texas MedClinic Chief Operating Officer and practicing physician Dr. David Gude.

As was the case for COVID-19 testing, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has provided guidelines and examples for employers on what can and cannot be asked of an employee regarding COVID-19 vaccination.

What are the exemptions for employees who wish not to be vaccinated?

An employer introducing a COVID-19 vaccination policy and requiring documentation or other confirmation of vaccination should notify all employees that the employer will consider requests for reasonable accommodation based on disability or exemptions on an individualized basis.

Two types of exemptions can be implemented:

  • Medical exemptions
    Some people may be at risk for an adverse reaction because of an allergy to one of the vaccine components or a medical condition. Employees are not required to disclose a mental or physical disability in foregoing vaccination.
  • Religious exemptions
    Some people may decline vaccination because of a sincerely held religious belief.

Employers offering or requiring vaccination to workers should keep a record of the offer to vaccinate and the employee’s decision to accept or decline vaccination.

For those wishing not to be vaccinated, the ADA requires that employers offer an available accommodation if one exists that does not pose an undue hardship, meaning a significant difficulty or expense to the employer.

For example, unvaccinated workers may be required to wear masks and social distance while in the workplace or be regularly tested for COVID-19 at the employer expense in an effort to protect other employees, clients, and customers.

Are there government or employer vaccine mandates?

There are no federal vaccine mandates. The CDC recommends that everyone over the age of 12 get vaccinated to protect against COVID-19 and the related, potentially severe complications that can occur.

However, whether a state, local government, or employer, for example, may require or mandate COVID-19 vaccination is a matter of state or other applicable law.

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