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EEOC gives employers the OK for vaccine mandates

by | Jun 8, 2021 | Employment Law

U.S. employers now can mandate that employees receive a COVID-19 vaccine, according to recent guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In a statement on the agency’s website on Friday, May 28, the EEOC said employers can require employees to become vaccinated as long as:

  • Employers provide reasonable accommodations as part of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • Employers don’t mandate employees with sincerely held religious beliefs against vaccinations to become vaccinated.

The EEOC backed employee vaccine mandates because unvaccinated employees present a direct threat to other employees in the workplace and to customers. The agency also noted that federal law doesn’t prohibit employers from offering incentives to employees who receive the vaccine. However, employers can’t offer incentives that are coercive.

Employees who don’t become vaccinated because of a disability covered by the ADA can receive reasonable accommodations to continue working. So can employees with religious beliefs or practices that prohibit vaccination. Some of the reasonable accommodates the EEOC recommended include that employers:

  • Require unvaccinated employees to wear masks
  • Require unvaccinated employees to social distance from co-workers and others
  • Allow unvaccinated employees to work modified shifts
  • Allow unvaccinated employees to work from home
  • Reassign unvaccinated employees to work that allows them to socially distance or work from home

The EEOC guidance also noted that if employers mandate COVID-19 vaccination, employees can’t reject these mandates because of their:

  • Political beliefs
  • Personal preferences
  • Economic philosophies
  • Societal beliefs

Now, as many U.S. offices are having employees return to work, few employers have issued any vaccine mandates. In fact, according to a survey completed earlier in 2021, only 9% of 700 responding employers said they were considering vaccine mandates for employees. So far, most employers have stuck to offering paid time off to receive vaccines, additional paid time off if employees feel ill after receiving a vaccine and other bonuses and gift cards.

For employees who may qualify for a vaccine mandate exception from their employer, they need to inform a human resources representative or their manager about their reasons for not becoming vaccinated. They then can work with their employer to find a reasonable accommodation, so they can perform their job duties without close contact with other employees.