As the push for vaccination increases across the nation, many employers are wondering if they should or even, could, require all employees to receive the vaccine.

The answer is: perhaps, and depends on the industry you are in. Many healthcare workers, for example, are required by their employers to get vaccinated. This makes sense as they are in a high-risk work environment for contracting the virus and work with vulnerable populations.

Outside of high-risk workplaces, whether an employer should insist on vaccination is not as clear-cut. A fair number of employees do not want the shot. Conversely, a CBS News survey recently found that 70 percent of employees don’t want to be required to return to the workplace unless there is a vaccine mandate in place. 

Under federal law, employers are allowed to mandate vaccination, with some exceptions. But having such a requirement can quickly get complicated. Their vaccine policy must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and other workplace laws, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Furthermore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that mandates may be subject to legal challenge from employees if there is even a chance that they aren’t compliant with workers’ rights laws. Additionally, state and local governments may have their own regulations.  

So far, it appears that most employers, large and small, in both the public and private sector are choosing to strongly encourage employees to be vaccinated but stop short of making it a requirement. This helps them to avoid the potential legal and administrative issues that establishing a mandated vaccination policy would mean.

“In my experience, employers don’t want to get involved in their workers’ medical histories, they don’t want to ask people about their disabilities or their religious exemptions,” said Elizabeth Tippett, a University of Oregon law professor specializing in employment practices in an article posted by The Oregonian. “So, I think employers will try less punitive ways to encourage people to get vaccinated before they resort to a full-on requirement, although it might vary by industry.”

According to The Oregonian article, just 6.5 percent of human resources, legal and executive employers nationwide plan to require all their workers be vaccinated, according to the article. Of the 1,800 survey respondents, another 43 percent said they are still determining their policies.

Some major corporations are instead providing employee incentives for vaccination. For example, Kroger supermarkets are offering $100 in store credit to employees who get vaccinated, according to the company. Aldi and Dollar General are offering similar incentives. Others are offering the vaccine to all employees at work or providing additional paid leave to those who get the vaccine.

Restarting businesses may desire widespread employee vaccinations as part of their re-opening plan.

The question is: What do business owners have to keep in mind as they consider their vaccination policy?

  • There is no workplace mandate for vaccination under the Emergency Authorization. But employers need to know and implement any state or local laws regarding employee vaccination.
  • If the employer chooses to require vaccination, they may request proof of the vaccination, but are not allowed to require any other medical information of that employee.
  • Employees may request exemption from the inoculation, because of religious, medical, or moral objection.
  • Employers who require vaccination will have consider what consequences will be given to those employees who refuse to vaccinate and put a system in place for monitoring vaccination compliance.
  • What alternatives can the employer provide to those employees that cannot or will not receive the vaccine due to a disability, religious accommodation, or otherwise.
  • Whether the employer chooses to mandate or strongly encourage COVID-19 vaccination, they will have to educate their employees about the vaccine, it’s safety and anything else employees are feeling uncertain about.
  • Messaging is key. An employer who can communicate that vaccination is about ensuring a safe workplace where employees and management care about each other’s health and wellbeing, will likely be more successful in convincing employees that getting the vaccine is the right thing to do.

There is a lot to consider when developing your policy around vaccination. As you do this ask yourself what’s reasonable versus what’s necessary to keep your workforce and the public safe, and go from there. You can learn more by visiting the CDC website.