Can You Require Employees to get a COVID-19 Vaccine?
News is starting to break that a COVID-19 vaccine is around the corner—or at least, that recent tests of vaccines have proven successful, giving us some hope that a vaccine will soon be available. There’s nothing your business would like more than to get your employees back into the office, and working like normal. When the vaccine is widely available, can you, as an employer, require your employees to get vaccinated as a condition of working (or continuing to work for you)?
Yes-But With Some Exceptions
As a general rule, as an employer, you have (or will have) a right to require employees to get COVID vaccines if they want to continue to work for you. In fact, many employers already require that employees demonstrate proof of flu or other vaccinations. Especially if you are a private company, you generally can require that your employees get whatever medical screening, testing or vaccinations that you want.
Of course, the matter isn’t that simple. Some employees may have medical reasons why they cannot be vaccinated. If their medical condition is a protected condition under the Americans With Disabilities Act, it would be illegal for you to require them to get vaccinated.
However, an employee simply saying “I’m high risk” would not be sufficient to exclude him or her from being vaccinated; the employee would have to demonstrate proof of the condition, to the extent required by the ADA.
Then there are the unfortunate political or publicity consequences. Surely, many people will take to the internet complaining that their employer is requiring (or not requiring) that employees get vaccinated. That is not so much a legal issue, as it is a business decision.
Employers may want to check with their worker’s compensation carrier. In the event that someone does have an adverse reaction to a COVID vaccination that was required by their employer, whatever treatment or time off is required, would likely be a valid worker’s compensation claim. Remember that you cannot fire, or take any adverse work action against an employee just because the employee made a worker’s compensation claim.
What about religious beliefs? Can an employee refuse to get a vaccine for religious reasons? Normally the answer is yes. However, those religious reasons or beliefs have to be “sincerely held.” That means that there can’t be a vague religious objection, nor can an employee make up a religion to avoid getting vaccinated.
If for some reason someone can’t be vaccinated for medical or religious reasons, the employer would likely have the option of requiring the employee to take other safety measures, such as distancing or mask wearing—even if everyone else is vaccinated.
Call the West Palm Beach employment lawyers at Pike & Lustig for help litigating, defending or trying your business law case, or to help keep your business protected from legal problems in the future.