How to Legally Implement Your Business’ Mandatory Vaccination Policy

HR services

The COVID-19 pandemic shook the business world last year. The time since then has been marked with much uncertainty for business owners and managers. They have gone through rapid transformations, and some have even overhauled their entire business model. Unfortunately, the uncertainty found in many aspects of business is still present and shows no signs of waning anytime soon.

One area with much contention and uncertainty is related to the COVID-19 vaccines. Admittedly, many employers walk a very fine line trying to balance employee medical rights with the safety concerns for other employees and customers. To demonstrate a commitment to public health and safety, many employers have been implementing COVID-19 vaccine mandates. But these actions have stirred a lot of controversies and led many to wonder if it is legal for a business to require vaccination.

Legal Support for Mandatory Vaccination Programs

The short answer is that yes, it is legal for most private companies and governmental agencies to require employees to become vaccinated as a condition of employment. Employees who refuse may not have legal protections unless they have a disability or a sincerely held religious belief preventing vaccination. These exceptions entitle a person to a reasonable accommodation under civil rights legal protections.

Guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has stated that mandatory vaccination programs are not generally prohibited under federal anti-discrimination laws. But they must account for accommodation obligations. Additionally, President Biden implemented a COVID-19 Action Plan earlier this year. This plan includes an OSHA strategy to develop a rule that all employers with over 100 employees ensure their team is fully vaccinated. Alternatively, employers may test unvaccinated workers weekly. Because of these requirements, COVID vaccination programs may align with the anticipated direction that federal employment laws may take soon.

Concerns with Mandatory Vaccination Programs

However, just because mandatory vaccination programs are legal doesn’t mean that they will be easy to implement. As a result, employers must address several HR services concerns to ensure that their mandatory vaccination policies are legal. Chief among these concerns are the following issues:

  • Disability Accommodations: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with a disability unless the employer can demonstrate the accommodation will create undue hardships for their company. Individuals with some conditions may be advised by their medical provider not to get the vaccine. It would be reasonable for the employer, through their HR services, to make an exception for these instances. Those working in medicine may also be impacted by these regulations, though. The employer may argue that a failure to have a vaccinated workforce could put undue hardship on the facility. This area may see many legal challenges in the coming months since COVID-19 vaccine mandates are so new.
  • Religious Exemptions: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also requires that employers provide accommodations for an employee’s sincerely held religious belief related to vaccines. Similar to ADA, this law does provide exceptions when it would cause undue hardship for the employer.
  • Vaccine Administration: Employers with mandatory vaccination programs must exercise caution if they plan to administer the vaccine themselves. The EEOC has stated that an employer’s use of pre-screening questions related to vaccination status may constitute a disability-related inquiry. Therefore, employers must show the business necessity of the pre-screening questions.
  • Time Considerations: Federal law may entitle some employees to be eligible for compensation during the time spent getting the vaccine if the employer requires it. A failure to adequately pay for this time could result in an expensive lawsuit. OSHA also recommends providing paid leave for those who get vaccinated and suffer from vaccine side effects.
  • Workers Compensation: Employers that administer vaccinations in the workplace also need to determine whether alleged injuries related to the vaccine are eligible for workers’ compensation insurance. The restrictions related to this may vary from state to state.
  • Refusal Policy: Employers will also have to develop a policy for those who refuse the vaccination. The EEOC guidance has determined that employers can ban employees from the workplace if they refuse to get vaccinated. This guidance offers the employer some protections, but companies must be very cautious about treating all employees the same under any policy they adopt.

Mandatory vaccination programs in the workplace are still a very new concept. While the prevailing guidance from the federal level has supported the legality of these programs, it is still important to remember that state and local jurisdictions may have alternative laws governing mandatory vaccination programs. In addition, since these programs are so new, they will likely be contentious for a while. To learn more about implementing a legal mandatory vaccination program at your company, contact CA HR Services today.

The mission at CA HR Services is to provide our valued clients dedicated, custom, and expert HR/Payroll services that exceed expectations. Regardless of the issue, we perform each task with confidentiality and the utmost integrity and in a manner that is consistent with a business’ own unique philosophy.