While the COVID-19 vaccine is not yet widely available for distribution, employers should plan now for what requirements or recommendations they may have of employees for getting the vaccine.
Requiring a vaccine
In general, employers can require a vaccine if it is job-related and consistent with business necessity. Not all industries or jobs may fit this requirement. However, due to COVID-19’s ease of spread and unpredictability with outcomes in each individual, many jobs in which other interaction with people is required will likely fit this description. Certainly, health care, long-term care, and other industries in which there is significant contact with the public and/or immunocompromised individuals would likely qualify. Other industries that require close contact between employees in their workspaces may also fit the bill.
Employers will need to closely consider the balance between their obligation to provide a safe workplace for employees and the fact that employee health decisions are personal choices. If vaccines are required, employers need to ensure confidentiality of medical records and may need to update employment policies.
If an employer chooses to require employees to be vaccinated, there are situations in which an accommodation (exception) may be required:
- If the employee has a sincerely held religious belief that prevents them from getting the vaccine
- If the employee has a medical condition that prevents them from getting the vaccine
- If their bargaining unit has certain exceptions
The EEOC has recommended that employers in most industries should encourage and not require employees to get the vaccine.
Continue proactive mitigation
Regardless of whether an employer chooses to require vaccines, continued safety protocol is still recommended as follows:
- Limiting close contacts and group sizes
- Wearing masks when close contacts are unavoidable
- Promoting good hygiene practices