As Employers Plan to Require COVID-19 Vaccinations, EEOC Offers Guidance to Protect Employees with Disabilities and Religious Objections


As the first Americans are administered the COVID-19 vaccine, many employers plan to require vaccination as a condition of continued employment.  While everyone can agree that safety in the workplace is of paramount concern, mandated vaccinations have the potential to infringe upon the rights of employees with disabilities or who have religious objections to being vaccinated.   

On December 16, 2020, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) issued guidance for employers planning to require their employees to be vaccinated.  The guidance provides a legal framework for adopting a vaccine requirement within the context of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.  

As the EEOC outlines in its guidance, “If an employee cannot get vaccinated for COVID-19 because of a disability or sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance, and there is no reasonable accommodation possible, then it would be lawful for the employer to exclude the employee from the workplace.”  To be sure, “[t]his does not mean the employer may automatically terminate the worker.”  

On the contrary, as the EEOC’s guidance makes clear, employers must strive to provide employees who suffer from recognized disabilities or who have religious objections with reasonable accommodations or exempt them from the vaccination requirement altogether.  This is the hallmark of an employer’s obligation.  For example, if an employee cannot be vaccinated due a disability or religious objection, employers must explore whether telework is practicable.

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented unimaginable hardships for workers across the country.  It has also created novel issues in employment law with challenging and ever-changing solutions.  As the light at the end of the tunnel nears, it is crucial that employees with disabilities or religious objections to vaccination are aware of their rights, and equally crucial that employers work with those employees to accommodate them while attempting to get their workforces back to the office or jobsite.
 

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About Alex Hartzband

Alex Hartzband's practice is focused on employment litigation. Alex is a senior associate in the firm's New York office.

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