COVID-19 Vaccination Incoming: Can you Make it Mandatory?

COVID-19 vaccinations are starting to get rolled out, meaning it’s time for employers to consider what their vaccination policies will be. Can you mandate employees get vaccinated? The short answer is, yes, however, in many cases you may be better off strongly encouraging workers to get the shots. Here’s why:

Accommodations

Employees may request exemptions from a vaccination for religious reasons. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says employers must reasonably accommodate an employee’s “sincerely held religious beliefs … unless accommodation would impose an undue hardship on business operations.”

An undue hardship includes impairing workplace safety, according to employment law firm Littler.

Courts have helped define what is an undue hardship. In Robinson v. Children’s Hospital, a court found that exempting an employee from a mandatory vaccination would have posed an undue hardship because “it would have increased the risk of transmitting influenza to its already vulnerable patient population.” This and similar court decisions have resulted in a higher likelihood of mandatory vaccine policies at healthcare facilities compared to other types of businesses.

What to Consider

Employment law firm Ogletree Deakins suggests employers take the following steps to prepare for the arrival of a Food and Drug Administration-approved COVID-19 vaccine:

  • Consider whether a mandatory policy is really necessary, or whether you’d be better off strongly encouraging employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine
  • Consider confining a mandatory vaccine policy to high-risk locales, departments, or worksites
  • Prepare to review numerous requests for accommodations
  • Find out if it’s possible to provide the vaccinations at no or little cost to the employee at a convenient location during normal
  • working hours
  • Plan to negotiate with any unions regarding the policy
  • Review state workers’ comp laws and your current insurance policy regarding ramifications of adverse employee physical reactions to the vaccine, and
  • Watch for new laws, regulations, and guidance from federal, state and local authorities.