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Can a New Jersey employer force their employees to get vaccinated?

On Behalf of | Aug 30, 2021 | Discrimination And Harassment, Employment Law

The past couple of months have seen a surge in employers mandating vaccinations against Covid-19 for all of their employees nationwide. This trend has increased recently with the FDA’s approval of the Pfizer brand of vaccine. This has left many employees wondering about their rights in this situation. Is there any way to avoid having to make the choice between getting the jab and losing their job? What about religious exemptions? What are their employee rights?

Mandates for government workers

Currently, the New Jersey government has mandated vaccinations for frontline government workers in high-contact industries. These include state medical staff, employees at correctional facilities, school staff and employees in assisted care facilities.

Currently, employees in these fields have the option of submitting to regular Covid testing – which could come as often as twice a week – as an alternative to complying with the vaccine mandate. However, Governor Murphy has stated unequivocally that a no-exception mandate is on the table for these industries if he decides that it becomes necessary in the future.

What about the private industry?

The government has authorized all private employers statewide to implement a vaccine mandate if they choose to. There are certain factors that can qualify an employee for an exemption to their mandate, including:

  • If they have a disability that prevents them from receiving the vaccine
  • If their doctor has advised them not to get the vaccine while pregnant or breastfeeding
  • If they have a sincerely held religious belief that will not allow them to receive the vaccine. According to the EEOC, employers can question the sincerity of an employee’s religious belief; however, these instances are rare.

If an employee fits into one of these categories, then the employer is required to treat them essentially the same as any employee under the Americans with Disabilities Act. In other words, the employer must give that employee a reasonable accommodation from their vaccine mandate, unless they can show that doing so would be unduly burdensome to the company.

Additionally, employers may require regular COVID testing for unvaccinated exempted employees or for vaccinated employees. The frequency of testing is at the discretion of the employer, but health officials recommend testing be conducted once or twice weekly.

If you or someone you know is concerned about an impending vaccine mandate in your place of employment, do not hesitate to contact an attorney for help in exploring your options and preparing any documentation necessary to attempt to qualify for an exception.