As America continues to roll out the vaccines, some members of the public are excited about it. Others have a different view. In fact, in a recent SHRM survey, forty percent of US workers say that they probably or definitely will not get the COVID vaccine when it becomes available to them. Of that group, 70% say that they will not get the vaccine, even if their employer requires it, and refusing to do so would mean losing their jobs. This leaves employers with a quandary: how can you best protect your employees and customers from COVID-19 when our best option is to require vaccination?

Can I Require My Staff To Get Vaccinated?

The short answer is yes, employers can require proof that their employees have received the COVID-19 vaccine – but there are some exceptions. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has made their guidelines more clear on this topic in three main areas. 

  • Federal law requires employers to give employees exemptions for religious or disability accommodation, however, employers may be permitted to exclude the employees from the workplace without vaccination in some circumstances. For employees with disabilities, the employer will be required to assess if a “direct threat” scenario exists. If direct threat can not be reduced through accommodation, the employee can be barred from entering the workplace. For employees with religious exemptions, if no reasonable accommodation is possible, they may also be barred from entering the workplace.
  • Employers requiring vaccination must prove that any inquiries that could implicate the ADA’s rules on disability-related inquiries are job related and consistent with business necessity.
  • The EEOC recommends that employers ensure they do not require proof of vaccination that includes the disclosure of genetic information. Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) can be avoided by telling the employees not to provide genetic information as part of the proof of vaccination. 

Can My Employees Refuse To Be Vaccinated?

The answer here is also yes. Employees can refuse to be vaccinated due to religious belief, or disability as mentioned above. In these cases the employer must make all efforts to accommodate the employee (through remote-work, or having the employee work isolated from the rest of your staff). However, if the employee does not have religious or disability-related grounds to not get the vaccine, employers can take disciplinary action against the employee. 

For employers requiring vaccination, it’s critical that all employees are treated equally, and that all communication regarding vaccination is documented and signed by employees. This means that you need to hold your best and worst employees to the same requirements if they refuse to get vaccinated. 

What Can I Do To Encourage My Staff To Get Vaccinated?

Many people have concerns about getting vaccinated, and the issue can become quite emotional for some. To keep the workplace running smoothly it’s important to keep open communication, and lead from the top. Your top level management should lead by example, and direct the rest of their staff to do the same. Managers need to discuss with their employees why it is important for them to get vaccinated, how it impacts the business and their customers. It may be helpful to have contact information available for physicians that your employees can talk to for more information. It is also a good idea for businesses to offer paid leave for employees to get their vaccine, and recover from any side effects in the day(s) following. Also, for businesses that work with labor unions, it is a good idea to work along with the union to set guidelines before issuing a vaccination mandate. 

What Should I Do If Someone At My Workplace Gets COVID?

With current infection rates it would be surprising for a business to not end up with an individual with COVID. When this occurs you should make sure of the following:

  • Anyone should stay home if they are sick (regardless of the illness). Businesses have the power to require those with COVID-19 to stay home from school. 
  • Anyone with COVID-19 should stay home and self-isolate until they have been cleared to return by their doctor. 
  • Individuals who were in close contact with the COVID-19 patient may be identified and contacted as part of the Office of Public Health (OPH) contact tracing process. “Close Contact” is considered to be a person who was less than six feet away for more than 15 minutes. These individuals should stay home and self-isolate, monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms, for 14 days. 
  • Establish clear communication on your plans for COVID-19 cases with everyone connected to your business. 

Transcendent Law Group combines the best legal minds, the best business practices with the best technology to obtain the best results. Contact us today to learn more about how we help businesses across the gulf south!