Approximately a year after the world stopped turning due to the COVID pandemic, businesses all over the nation are now slowly starting to reopen their doors for business. While employees have been spending the last year working remotely from home, thanks to the introduction of several vaccine options, those who have been relegated to a home-based work environment are beginning to move back to an in-office setting. With this transition, one potential issue has been brought to the forefront. Can a business force or require their employees to get the COVID vaccine and if so, should they? It is this topic we will look at in-depth below:
It Depends on Several Factors
In short, the answer to whether or not a business can require vaccine cooperation among their employees is dependent on several factors. First and foremost, states vary greatly in terms of what they require in order to quantify if a business is operating safely. There are two main factors to consider when it comes to mandatory vaccinations:
Understand that vaccines can be a vital part of operating a business safely in a world where COVID still exists and is taking lives.
Contemplate if a business can withstand the potential increase of insurance premiums down the road if several employees get sick from COVID and potentially even require hospitalization.
Evaluate whether requiring the vaccine makes sense for your business model or industry. If you work with a health-compromised polulation, for example, a mandatory vaccine policy would make more sense for you than for a manufacturing facility that is spacious enough to allow for social distancing and does not interact with the public.
What is Legal? Can a Business Require Employees to Be Vaccinated?
There are some additional important factors to consider when evaluating this often sensitive subject. One is whether a local government or state ordinance requires proof of vaccinations for employees to work in a specific area. It’s important to remember that there are two legal exemptions that employees can lean on if they do not want to cooperate and get a vaccination. These two legal exemptions are religious and medical.
With all that information being stated, according to the Equal Employment OpportunityCommission (EEOC), businesses can require their employees to get the vaccination. It’s important to remember that EEOC states that any equal employment opportunity laws “donot interfere with or prevent employers from following CDC or other federal, state or local public health authorities’ guidance and suggestions.” So while generally, a business can require employee vaccinations, there are many potential complications that could make implementing such a mandate confusing and/or impossible.
What Are Some Potential Complications to Vaccine Mandates?
Businesses need to be especially careful asking pre-screening or disability-related questions, and should also be aware of any questions asked by pharmacies or other third parties who may administer the vaccine.
Bottom Line, Can or Can’t a Business Ask for Proof of Vaccination?
To sum it up, yes, businesses or a company’s HR department can ask an employee to show proof of a vaccination card —provided it is job-related.
Can a Business Fire an Employee Who Refuses a Vaccination?
The answer to this question is “possibly.” However, the caveat is that employers must make any and all reasonable accommodations to meet ADA regulations. This means that if an employee refuses to get a vaccine, then a business must provide the employee a way to work around the vaccine requirement while still keeping other employees safe. This could include allowing said employee (who doesn't want a vaccination) to work remotely from home.
Is Mandated Vaccinations a Good Idea for Employers?
As outlined above, it's obvious that requiring employees to get vaccinated or to show proof of vaccination in order to work can be quite tricky. Having a mandate isn’t necessarily a good idea due to the many hoops a business must jump through to do so legally. It’s also important for businesses to understand they will likely face some resistance from some employees and perhaps even leaders in the community. Businesses must make sure their HR and legal team are on board to ensure that any mandate that is issued has been well vetted and is legally sound.