Benefits Q&A: Can Employers Require the COVID-19 Vaccine?
Q: We had a leadership meeting today, and the hot topic of COVID was discussed. Boy, you want to get some STRONG opinions, just ask people whether they plan to get the vaccine! Naturally, the conversation progressed to whether we as the employer can require our employees to be vaccinated.
So, I am asking the question, can we mandate that our employees get the COVID vaccine, especially since we see clients and go into their homes? If not, what about offering employees some sort of incentive to get the vaccine?
A: Yes, in general, employers may either mandate employees to get the COVID vaccine or offer them an incentive to do so. However, there are a lot of considerations.
The first thing I would advise organizations is to really analyze whether the vaccine is necessary to protect employees and/or the customers or other individuals with whom they interact. For example, for health care providers, mandating the vaccine is highly likely to be necessary. For a company that is providing all services remotely or interacts very little with clients/the public, however, it probably isn’t. You seem to fall somewhere in the middle, which makes it all the more important to have a strong and well-documented rationale for requiring or incentivizing the vaccine.
Once an employer decides they can justify mandating the vaccine, they would then need to consider accommodations for individual employees on the basis of their health (i.e., the vaccine may pose a risk to the employee because of a health condition); religion (the employee has religious objections to the vaccine); and possibly other circumstances depending on state law. If an accommodation is not possible, it might be allowable to exclude the employee from the workplace.
I recommend that employers consult the EEOC’s guidance on this topic (scroll down the webpage to section K, especially K.4 through K.7).
This is still a new issue, and we will be providing additional information and resources as the vaccine becomes more readily available. Feel free to contact me if you have any additional questions in the meantime!