Since March 2020 employers have faced many unprecedented challenges related to the Covid pandemic. Now that some degree of normalcy is returning, and employees are coming back into the work place, a new challenge has been presented—can employers require that employees obtain the Covid vaccine?
The simple answer is yes. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued guidelines which affirm an employer’s right to require the Covid vaccine, with some restrictions.
If an employee has a legitimate medical or religious reason for not being vaccinated, the employer must make an effort to accommodate the employee. This means that the employer must engage in an interactive dialogue with the employee to determine whether any adjustments can be made to the employee’s job which would allow the employee to perform the essential functions of the job without vaccination. The accommodation must be reasonable and cannot impose an undue hardship on the employer.
There is a view promoted by some who are opposed to vaccination that because the Covid vaccines were approved by the Food and Drug Administration under emergency use authorizations the vaccines are experimental, and should not be forced on people.
In June 2021 a federal judge in Texas summarily dismissed a lawsuit brought by a group of Houston hospital workers who objected to receiving the “experimental” vaccine. The judge admonished the plaintiffs for making a shameful argument comparing Covid vaccination with medical experiments Nazis performed on Jews during the Holocaust. He also observed that required vaccination was part of the hospital’s business of saving lives, and employees who didn’t want to be vaccinated would “simply need to work somewhere else.”
Many employers are not requiring that employees be vaccinated. One common reason is that because of the current shortage of workers, employers do not want to make it more difficult to hire new employees or retain existing employees. If employers do not require vaccination, masking and social distancing should be required of unvaccinated employees.
EEOC allows required COVID vaccination, with some restrictions.