According to the New York Times Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker, there are currently 48 COVID-19 vaccines in some phase of human testing with a few showing promise of approval and release by early 2021, but any approved vaccines may face prioritization restrictions and logistical challenges before reaching the general public. Assuming that an effective vaccine becomes available at some point in 2021, how will you address vaccination with your workforce? Have you thought about mandating a COVID-19 vaccination for all employees? Have you wondered if it would be legal to do so? Whether there may be exceptions to consider?
Generally speaking, other than in the several states that permit philosophical objections to receiving vaccines, employers may require vaccinations as a condition of employment. Prior to the Coronavirus pandemic, such mandates were typically found among healthcare sector employers. Makes sense. Now, however, employers across the board are asking whether they may mandate COVID-19 vaccinations once available. What do employers need to consider? What if an employee refuses to be vaccinated?
In 2009, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) addressed mandatory vaccinations in response to the spread of the H1N1 virus stating that businesses covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 may require employees to be vaccinated during a pandemic with two important exceptions: 1) An employer may not require a vaccine for an employee with an underlying medical condition, such as allergies, if the vaccine would place him or her at a greater risk for illness. 2) An employer cannot mandate a vaccine if an employee has a religious objection, the standard for which has been defined in the courts as a “sincerely held” religious belief.
Just like any other accommodation request under the ADA, employers subject to the Act must provide employees with a reasonable accommodation so long as it doesn’t pose an “undue hardship.” Teleworking arrangements, isolating workstations, additional PPE requirements may all be within the realm of reasonableness in accommodating objections based on medical necessity and may be considerations as well for employees objecting based on religious grounds.
Employers considering mandating COVID-19 vaccinations are advised to establish a plan and document their decisions and philosophy in the form of policy guidelines and associated employee communications. Employers should also thoroughly consider the impact of such a mandate including cost and other logistics, and the disciplinary consequences of failing to adhere to established policy guidelines without authorized justification.
Managing the many responsibilities that fall to human resources while trying to maintain operational effectiveness, efficiency and budgetary goals coupled with the challenges presented by the pandemic can be difficult. The HR Consulting Practice at Univest Insurance provides clients with a broad range of HR compliance and operational services. To learn more about how we can support your HR Team, contact us at 267.646.4467or email@example.com.
Source: BLR ADA Compliance Guide. Adapted from content provided by Maggie A. Hanson, Gene R. LaSuer, Davis Brown Law Firm, Des Moines, Iowa.
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