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Can Employers Make Vaccines Mandatory in COVID-19?

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Question: Things seem to be calming down some, thank goodness, relating to COVID-19 and the avalanche of guidance and regulations and interpretation of those laws and regulations from the CDC, DOL, and Congress. Thanks, ACCA, for guiding my team through all of this! Lately I’ve been hearing lots of positive news on the statistics, and the possibility of a vaccine. My question is, can I mandate a policy of having to get a vaccine prior to coming or returning to work? 

Answer: Even though a vaccine to prevent COVID-19 isn’t available yet, it’s not too early for employers to start considering whether they will require employees to get the vaccination when it is ready.  

However, use extreme caution before proceeding. 

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has yet to issue guidance on a COVID-19 vaccine, so employers should look to the EEOC’s guidance on the flu vaccine for now, say a variety of experts in the legal field. 

The EEOC has advised that flu vaccinations be may not mandated for all employees. Exceptions must be made for disability or religious accommodation requests. Proper notice must be provided as well. 

Thus, employers should encourage, rather than mandate, employees to get the flu vaccine. 

Interestingly, a poll by the Gallup organization published on August 7 showed that if the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a free COVID-19 vaccine today, 35 percent of respondents would not receive the vaccine. 

These employees stated that they would no longer wish to work for an employer if they are requiring vaccines. They further said that even if they reluctantly decided to receive the vaccine, it might also evolve into a certain amount of distrust between them and their employer. 

This response is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion, nor is this column a substitute for formal legal assistance. 

Hilary Atkins

Posted In: ACCA Now, Legal, Management

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