Compliance for HR, Employee Relations

Should employers mandate COVID-19 vaccinations?

As the United States and the rest of the world wait for a full-scale rollout of vaccinations for COVID-19, employers are considering the issue of mandating that employees be vaccinated before returning to work. 

Many experts agree that employers will be justified in requiring vaccines for employees as long as their policies include certain exceptions. Those include employees who cannot be vaccinated because of disability or sincerely held religious beliefs.

“Employers may require vaccines before employees return to the worksite if the failure to be vaccinated constitutes a direct threat to other employees in the workplace because the virus is rampant and easily transmitted in the workplace,” Robin Samuel, an attorney with Baker McKenzie in Los Angeles, told SHRM

Some industries will almost certainly decide to mandate vaccines, such as healthcare, travel, retail, or other businesses whose employees are at risk or who potentially pose a risk to others. Businesses that rely on remote workers, or office-based businesses, may choose to allow the workers to make their own decisions on receiving the vaccine. 

Even if the law allows an employer the right to mandate that employees be vaccinated against COVID-19, it may not be worth the risk to institute such a policy. For instance, it’s possible that an employee could suffer severe side effects from the vaccine, resulting in a workers’ compensation claim that the employer must then deal with. Another possible risk is that of public backlash. In today’s political climate, with both the virus and the vaccine being politicized, any policy is likely to upset many people. The best policy might be for employers to recommend that employees get the vaccine, and hope that most of them do. 

Can your business be liable for not requiring the vaccine?

If a business chooses not to impose a vaccine mandate, its employees may claim that the employer is failing to provide a safe and healthy work environment, a requirement of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Such a violation could even be “a factor in tort litigation over whether appropriate safety protocols were followed by an employer,” according to Lindsay Burke, an attorney with Covington in Washington, DC. 

Currently, several government agencies are indicating support for mandatory vaccination policies. Most notably, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have determined that COVID-19 meets the definition of “direct threat.” 

How we can help

HR Affiliates can assist with your company’s policy on COVID-19 vaccinations. We can help you navigate the options, including exceptions and providing reasonable accommodations for those who qualify. Contact us today.

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