Returning to Work: Do I have to get vaccinated?

As employees start to head back to the office there is one question on their mind – do I have to get vaccinated to go back to the office?  While many employees voluntarily chose to get the Covid-19 vaccine, others are concerned about losing their job if they choose not to get vaccinated.

Whether an employer can require an employee to get vaccinated depends on state law.  With the ever evolving circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, states are still in the process of passing legislation surrounding employer’s requirement or discrimination based on receiving the Covid-19 vaccine.  Several states have pending legislation that would not allow employers to require employees to receive the Covid-19 vaccine as part of their employment.  Other states have pending legislation to protect employers who require employees to be vaccinated.

Federal law may still offer some protections to employees who choose not to get vaccinated.  Employees may be exempt for religious beliefs or medical issues.  Employees that are covered by the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 who have made employers aware of their religious beliefs may have the foundation to receive a religious exemption.  Additionally, the Americans with Disabilities Act may protect individuals that have a protected disability that would be medically averse to receiving a vaccination.  Employers will need to make appropriate accommodations for employees with disabilities.

For employers that do require employees to be vaccinated, there are limitations on what they can ask employees.  Employees who receive their vaccination aside from employer sponsored vaccination, are not required to show medical proof of vaccination.  Employers may ask employees whether they are vaccinated against COVID, but that is the extent of proof employers can require from employees.  As the world enters a new phase, many questions are still left unanswered surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine. Alternatively, will employers be held liable if they do not require vaccinations?  Some legal professionals would be surprised if employers were but it is not outside the realm of possibility.  

Requiring vaccinations may largely depend on the employer’s industry.  For example, hospitals and other medical entities may require employees to be vaccinated.  Employers in the medical industry already require employees to receive other routine vaccinations and tests as part of their continued employment.  There are, however, employees who work from home or have limited contact with the public. In these instances, an employer may decide not to require employees to get vaccinated since they do not regularly enter the workplace.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control regularly encourages everyone to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in the interest of public health. Nonetheless, whether employees are vaccinated or not, employers are still encouraged to maintain safety protocols to protect their employees and the public from being exposed to the COVID-19 virus.  

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