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December 21, 2020

EEOC Issues Guidance To Employers For Requiring COVD Vaccine

As employers scramble to try to determine when their employees will be to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, they also are wondering if they can require their employees to be inoculated. The likely answer is that they can, at least in most circumstances, but both federal guidance and state law will need to be considered as companies set their policies.

Bloomberg article published last week explained that while “President-elect Joe Biden has said he doesn’t support making vaccinations mandatory” and “the federal government’s power to impose vaccine requirements is limited … states clearly have that authority, and they’ve used it.” After a measles outbreak in 2019 in Brooklyn, for example, New York City officials required residents of that borough to be vaccinated or pay a $1,000 fine. States also have varying vaccine requirements for children to attend school. The article said, in general, “Most nonunion companies have relatively wide latitude to create such requirements largely because employment relationships are presumed to be ‘at-will’ in nearly every state.”

Additionally, employers’ “legal duty to provide a safe and healthy workplace” also probably means that they may require vaccinations.

Employees can raise objections, however, and the Americans with Disabilities Act allows an employee “to request an exemption from a vaccine mandate if she has a disability that’s covered by the law while the 1964 Civil Rights Act allows employees the right to seek an exception based on religious beliefs.

Last week, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provided guidance to employers that largely reflects this information. The EEOC said equal employment laws still apply during any pandemic, but, in general, these laws “do not interfere with or prevent employers from following the guidelines and suggestions made by” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “or state/local public health authorities about steps employers should take regarding COVID-19.”

Specifically, the EEOC said federal law allows employers to require employees to take the vaccine – as long as the company meets requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. Click here to read the guidance.