It’s been a year since the pandemic first hit, and many of us have fully adapted to an at-home or remote work setup. However, with the launch of the vaccines, employers are beginning to prepare to bring employees back. Of course, many essential businesses never had employees working from home. When gearing up for an office relaunch or protecting your in-store essential employees, companies know that the Covid-19 vaccination is a critical element in bringing our world back to normal. Many are beginning to wonder if employers can require the COVID vaccine, especially when hiring during COVID-19 — and the answer is, sort of. Find out if businesses can require employees to get vaccinated for COVID-19 and the exemptions employees can file.
Can Employers Require Employees to Get Vaccinations?
COVID is a disease we’re still working to understand, but most professionals agree the easiest way to fight it is through vaccination. Widespread vaccination protects those who cannot get the vaccine, such as those who are immunocompromised. In a work setting, having everyone vaccinated is often necessary for its safety and the customers.
So, can employers require employees to get vaccinated? Whether COVID-19 or not, employers must make sure the vaccine adheres to a checklist to require vaccination. For instance, companies must offer a required vaccine at no cost to the employee and made available to employees at a reasonable time and place. Employers cannot force their staff to pay any out-of-pocket expenses. They also must cover the cost of transportation to the vaccination site. Because of vaccine-related OSHA laws, appointments are typically scheduled during work hours, most often for things such as HepB and the flu shot.
Can Employers Require the Covid Vaccine?
The COVID vaccine is a touchy subject and is not something background screenings currently check. The FDA approved the vaccine rapidly, which means some people are hesitant to receive it. Moreover, it’s hard to get the vaccine right now, and essential employees are not always at the top of the list. Plus, getting the vaccine once is not enough, and a second-round is necessary for proper antibody buildup. With that said, employers can legally require immunization as per the EEOC or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. You as an employer may do so by questioning existing employees and updating your background screening policy.
However, some accommodation exceptions must be in place for employees with disabilities or religious objections. In those cases, reasonable accommodation to the employee in question is necessary. Management/supervisors have to communicate to employees about vaccination compliance and who to speak to about accommodation requests. Employees and employers should have a flexible, interactive process for finding a workplace accommodation where neither party undergoes undue hardship. The number of employees who already received the vaccination and the amount of contact with others impact what constitutes “undue hardship.” Employers can consult the Job Accommodation Network for types of accommodations if unclear about legalities.
What Employers Can Do If Workers Refuse the Vaccine
Employers must treat each case of vaccine refusal individually, and most rejections are based on religion or disability. Laws establish the risk of a singular employee denying the vaccine on four factors:
- Duration of the risk.
- Nature and severity of potential harm.
- The likelihood that potential damage will occur.
- The imminence of any potential harm.
An employer’s conclusion of a direct threat must determine that the unvaccinated employee poses an immediate threat to others at the worksite and could expose them to the virus.
Refusal based on religion or disability
Employees who refuse a vaccine citing their religion must be sincere. Employers should assume the best but can request further documentation if the faith, practice, or observance is questionable. For religious refusals, employers must provide reasonable accommodation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. If it’s due to a disability, the employer may not exclude the worker from the workplace, or take any other action, unless there is absolutely no other way to provide reasonable accommodation. Like religious beliefs, employers may request official documentation of a disability should there be a reason to question it.
Reasonable accommodation on behalf of employers
The law defines employers’ reasonable accommodation as one that does not place undue hardship on an employer. It defines undue hardship as more than a de minimis cost or burden on the employer. Reasonable accommodations can include working remotely, working via telework, or reassignment. To be clear, employers take similar steps when there’s a current COVID-19 diagnosis, exposure, or symptoms.
Further accommodation laws
If employers cannot reduce the threat of COVID-19 to an acceptable level, they can refuse physical entry to the workplace. However, this does not automatically mean terminating the worker. Employers will need to check with individual federal, state, and local laws on their ability or inability to accommodate an employee. If the worker cannot work remotely, they may take leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, FMLA, or employer policies.
DataCheck Helps Employers Keep Workplaces Safe
Keeping the workplace safe is the number one goal of all employers, and DataCheck is here to help. DataCheck continues to work through the pandemic and has stayed fully operational without internal operations changes to continue assisting you. Get in touch to take advantage of our comprehensive employment screening solutions and see how easy it can be to get top-quality background checks at an exceptional rate!