The COVID-19 pandemic brought us the “new normal.” Just to stay afloat, businesses nationwide are forced to adjust the way they operate, the way they deal with clients and customers, and the way they deal with employees. Workplace mask mandates, physical distancing policies, and staggered work schedules are all methods businesses have used to work around restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We can only hope that a return to pre-COVID operations will follow the vaccinations that will soon be made available.
With vaccinations on the horizon, many businesses are asking if they can require employees to receive the vaccine. Many healthcare workers are currently required to receive certain vaccinations as a condition of employment, and the EEOC and OSHA have addressed the issue of mandatory flu vaccination policies in the past. Governor Wolf recently stated that the Commonwealth has no current plans to mandate vaccinations in the workplace. While no law or regulation directly addresses the issue, employers are generally free to condition employment on receiving vaccinations.
However, there are exceptions.
For example, disabled workers who refuse vaccination for medical reasons can request an exemption under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under the ADA, a disabled employee must request and substantiate a need for a reasonable accommodation, such as working remotely. The employer must provide a reasonable accommodation as long as it does not cause the employer significant difficulty or expense. Similarly, workers can refuse if taking the vaccine would violate their sincerely held religious beliefs under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
As an alternative to enacting a mandatory vaccination policy, employers might merely encourage their employees to get vaccinated, or continue existing mitigation efforts such as remote work, physical distancing, and required face coverings in the workplace.
What You Should Do Now
If your business intends to require COVID-19 vaccination of your employees, you should include the recognized EEOC protective provisions in your policy for those who have medical or religious objections to the vaccination. You should also prepare and train human resources personnel in fielding, responding to, and documenting requests for accommodations, as well as how best to engage in the interactive process with employees who request accommodations.