There’s a lot of confusion as the world tries to navigate its way through an almost yearlong global pandemic. And one of the latest controversies is whether or not a workplace can force its employees to get the newly developed coronavirus vaccine.
The short answer is “yes.” Legally, private “at-will” employers can require their employees to get vaccinated, just as healthcare workers are required to get an annual flu shot or school children are required to be immunized before attending class. But the long answer is not that simple; there are certainly some exceptions.
Who Could Be Exempt
People with medical conditions could be exempt and are protected by the Americans with Disability Act. In this case, an employer may have to accommodate that employee and offer other solutions like working remotely or the use of personal protective equipment.
An employee may also be exempt under the religious accommodation provision of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. If an employee can prove their “sincere” religious beliefs prevent them from taking the vaccine, employers could be legally required to give them other reasonable alternatives.
If a workforce is unionized, the collective bargaining agreement may require union negotiations before an employer can make the vaccine mandatory as well.
What Employers Should Consider
The Food and Drug Administration authorized Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use on December 11th, 2020, clearing the way for millions of people to begin receiving the vaccine. However, employers should keep in mind that this authorization is not the same as final approval.
Pfizer-BioNTech still has to gather additional data to file a Biologics License Application (BLA) with the FDA for possible full regulatory approval in 2021.This means that mandatory vaccination protocols may have to wait until the entire approval process is completed.
Another notable piece of information for employers is the repercussions of possible side effects. If an employer chooses not to mandate the COVID vaccine, the employer, in turn, possibly cannot be held liable if an employee develops side effects. However, in instances where an employer mandates that employees take the vaccine, the employer possibly can be held liable if an employee develops side effects from the vaccine. In this case, the employee may have a right to file a claim under the employer’s workers’ compensation insurance program.
Many experts believe at this time that employers are more likely to encourage their workers to get immunized rather than issue a company-wide mandate.
Experienced Employment Law Attorney, Mediator, Arbitrator, Investigator, Legal and Media Commentator
Twice-named a U.S. News Best Lawyer in America for employment and labor law, Angela Reddock-Wright is an employment and labor law attorney, mediator, arbitrator, and certified workplace and Title IX investigator (AWI-CH) in Los Angeles, CA. Known as the “Workplace Guru,” Angela is an influencer and leading authority on employment, workplace/HR, Title IX, hazing, and bullying issues.
Angela is a regular legal and media commentator and analyst and has appeared on such media outlets as Entertainment Tonight, Law and Crime with Brian Ross, Court TV, CNN, ABC, CBS, Fox 11 News, KTLA-5, the Black News Channel, Fox Soul – The Black Report, NPR, KPCC, Airtalk-89.3, KJLH Front Page with Dominique DiPrima, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the LA Times, Yahoo! Entertainment, People Magazine, Essence Magazine, the Los Angeles Sentinel, LA Focus, Daily Journal, Our Weekly and the Wave Newspapers.
Angela is a member of the panel of distinguished mediators and arbitrators with Judicate West, a California company that represents the gold standard in dispute resolution. She also owns her own dispute resolution law firm, the Reddock Law Group of Los Angeles, specializing in the mediation, arbitration, and investigation of employment discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and other workplace claims, along with Title IX, sexual assault, and misconduct, hazing and bullying cases.
This communication is not legal advice. It is educational only. For legal advice, consult with an experienced employment law attorney in your state or city.