Employers may now require their workers to take the COVID-19 vaccine. The EEOC issued new guidance confirming companies can require employees to provide proof that they received the COVID-19 vaccine, so long as companies comply with religious and disability accommodation requests.
Before mandating a COVID-19 vaccine, employers should consider whether such a requirement is necessary for their workforce. For example, workers in an office setting are generally in a better position to maintain social distancing, wear masks, and wash their hands frequently. In such a setting, a vaccine requirement may not be necessary to maintain a safe workplace. In contrast, for employees who work in high-density work environments, like a meat packaging or industrial plant, social distancing may not always be feasible, and such employees may face a higher risk of contracting the virus at work. As such, requiring employees who work in a high-density workplace to receive the vaccine may provide a safer workplace and prevent mass virus spreading.
After such considerations, if your company decides to mandate the vaccine, you must manage employee disability or religious exemption requests by engaging in the interactive process to determine whether you can provide the employee with a reasonable accommodation or exempt them from the vaccination requirement altogether. If no reasonable accommodation exists under the ADA, then the employee can be excluded from the workplace, but companies should not automatically terminate employees.
Absent a disability or sincerely held religious belief that would require an exemption, absent undue hardship, an employee who refuses to comply with their employer’s vaccine mandate may be excluded from the workplace and even terminated. But tread lightly – employees may raise retaliation claims in such scenarios based on disability or religious beliefs, so employers should be prepared to defend their decision to take adverse action.
Because the EEOC has issued specific guidance surrounding COVID-19 vaccine mandates, employers should begin planning their vaccination programs well in advance of public dissemination of the vaccine, which may take several more months depending on each state’s distribution plan for the vaccine. As your company navigates the many issues associated with the COVID-19 vaccine, we are here to strategically advise and tailor policies for your workforce.
Questions? Please feel free to contact Monty & Ramirez LLP