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Q&A: Employers and COVID-19 Vaccines in the Workplace

CoAdvantage- 1: Can I require employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

In general, yes, employers can require employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine. That said, employers may be required to offer exemptions or accommodations when required by federal or state regulations.

For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that employees may be entitled to exemptions based on ADA-recognized disabilities and medical conditions. So, if an employee is allergic to one of the ingredients in the vaccine, they cannot be required to take the vaccine. Similarly, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act mandates that employers provide reasonable accommodation (unless it would pose an undue hardship to the employer) if taking the vaccine would violate an employee’s “sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance.”

Altogether, this means the employer can mandate vaccination among the majority of its workforce, but it needs to have a process in place for assessing and handling requests for exemptions or accommodations.

For more information, read our previous article on requiring vaccinations for employees.

2: Can I require employees to show proof of vaccination?

The same limitations apply in this situation as above. Note also that privacy laws mean that if the employer requires the employee to furnish proof that they got the vaccine elsewhere, such as from their doctor or at a pharmacy, they cannot collect other medical data at the same time.

3: Can I require customers to show proof of vaccination?

In general, similar legal restrictions will apply to customers as to employees. For example, the ADA may require the business to make an accommodation for a customer with a disability or medical condition. The Civil Rights Act also prohibits any policy that might discriminate against individuals on the basis of religious belief, so if they object to the vaccine as part of a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance, they may require the business to offer a reasonable accommodation before refusing service. These limitations haven’t stopped some businesses from requiring vaccination. For example, some venues for live events and some airlines have already begun doing so.

4: Can I encourage employees (or customers) to get the vaccine?

If employers wish to avoid the legal implications of mandating vaccination, they can instead set up a program to encourage and perhaps incentivize vaccination instead. For example, employers can establish policies that let employees use paid leave to go get vaccinated, and they can promote vaccination and its benefits in the workplace.

5: Where can I get more information?

The CDC has a comprehensive FAQ toolkit for employers. You can also visit the CoAdvantage COVID-19 Resource Center for up-to-date guidance, resources, links, and more. Finally, remember that employers may also be subject to local and state laws. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that any employer considering a workplace COVID-19 vaccination program contact the local health department in their jurisdiction for guidance.

CoAdvantage, one of the nation’s largest Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs), helps small to mid-sized companies with HR administration, benefits, payroll, and compliance. To learn more about CoAdvantage’s ability to create a strategic HR function in your business that drives business growth potential, contact us today.

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COVID-19 RESOURCES: Please visit our Coronavirus Resources landing page for a compilation of links and useful information for your business to utilize as you navigate the COVID-19 crisis.