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Elaine Turner, a shareholder and partner in the law firm of Hall Estill, explains when employers can and cannot require their employees to take the COVID-19 vaccine when it’s available.
While the rules on mandating vaccines on the job aren’t always crystal clear, several criteria must be considered in order for a business to require its workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The first step is to determine whether vaccination is necessary in order to protect employees and the public, or if there are other ways to prevent the spread of the virus, such as the use of masks, plexiglass dividers and distancing of workers on the jobless
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently ruled that employers can mandate administering of the vaccine, but not for every employee without exceptions. It must first be determined that the employee is in an environment where the vaccine is necessary to their performing the essential functions of the job. Other exceptions include employees with a medical condition that qualifies as a disability under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), and those with “sincerely held” religious beliefs that prevent them from taking the vaccine. In the case of the latter, a mere personal belief, divorced from religious doctrine, will likely be an insufficient excuse.
There’s also the question of what to do with employees who claim a medical condition that makes them especially susceptible to the virus, and who might therefore demand that all those around them take the vaccine. Again, though, there are often other methods that the employer can adopt in order to protect everyone
In any case, says Turner, many employers aren’t ready to mandate the vaccine, which has received only emergency approval from the FDA, because a large portion of the public currently is reluctant to take it.
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