AS THE COVID-19 pandemic rages on and more employers bring staff back to the workplace, many businesses are considering implementing mandatory vaccination policies for seasonal flus as well as the coronavirus.
A safe and widely accessible COVID-19 vaccine would allow businesses to open their workplaces again and return to a semblance of normalcy. But employers have to juggle protecting their workers and customers from infection in their facilities as well as respecting the wishes of individual employees who may object to being vaccinated.
The issue spans Equal Opportunity Employment Commission regulations and guidance, as well as OSHA workplace safety rules. With that in mind, employers mulling mandatory vaccination policies need to consider:
- How to decide if a policy is right for the company,
- How they will enforce the policy,
- The legal risks of enforcing the policy, and
- Employer responsibilities in administering the policy.
Proceed with caution
In pandemic guidance issued during the 2009 H1N1 influenza outbreak, the EEOC stated that both the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VII bar an employer from compelling its workers to be vaccinated for influenza regardless of their medical condition or religious beliefs – even during a pandemic.
The guidance stated that under the ADA, an employee with underlying medical conditions should be entitled to an exemption from mandatory vaccination (if one was requested) for medical reasons. And Title VII would protect an employee who objects due to religious beliefs against undergoing vaccination.
In these cases, the employer would have to enter into an interactive process with the worker to determine whether a reasonable accommodation would enable them to perform essential job functions without compromising workplace safety (such as providing personal protective equipment, moving their workstations or telecommuting).
One issue that employment law attorneys say may not have any legal standing is if an employee objects to inoculation based on being an “anti-vaxxer.” In this case, depending on which state your business is located, you may or may not be able to compel an anti-vaxxer to get a vaccine shot if they want to keep their job.
Protecting your firm
To mount a successful defense of a vaccination policy if sued, you would need to be able to show that the policy is job-related and consistent with business necessity. And that the rationale is based on facts, tied to each employee’s job description and that you enforce the policy consistently without prejudice or favoritism.
Also, you must ensure that any employee who requests accommodation due to their health status or religious beliefs does not suffer any adverse consequences. In other words, you cannot punish someone who is covered by the ADA or Title VII for refusing a vaccine.
Also, you will need to project and safeguard your employees’ medical information, under the law.
Consider Fully Covering Vaccine Costs
Employment law experts say that once a vaccine is widely available, most employers will likely have the right to require that workers get it, as long as they heed the advice above about the ADA and Title VII. Until then, you may want to consider following the 2009 guidance. v
VACCINATION POLICY GUIDELINES
- Consider fully covering vaccine costs if they are not fully covered by your employees’ health insurance.
- Allow workers to opt out if they have medical or religious objections.
- In the event of a medical or religious objection, engage in an interactive process to determine whether the worker can be accommodated.
- Implement safeguards for keeping your employees’ medical information confidential.
- Don’t abandon your other efforts to keep your workplace safe, such as the use of social distancing, regular cleaning and disinfecting, and the use of personal protective equipment.
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