Can Businesses Require Employees to Get the COVID-19 Vaccination?


As offices start to open back up, businesses must implement COVID-19 protocol to keep spaces and employees safe.  In addition to distancing desks, building plexus glass barriers, and providing hand sanitizer in the office, business can go one step further and require employees to be vaccinated to return to the office. 

Government guidance says that businesses can legally mandate COVID-19 vaccines as long as they provide reasonable accommodations and exemptions to employees who do not receive the vaccine due to underlying disabilities or religious beliefs.  The EEOC has provided a legal framework to allow businesses to mandate the vaccine under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.  The EEOC does not consider receiving a COVID-19 vaccine a “medical examination” under the ADA.  As such, employers can require proof of COVID-19 inoculation but cannot make follow up inquiries that are likely to illicit information about a disability.

While the EEOC notes that it may be legal to exclude non-vaccinated employees from the workplace if no reasonable accommodations are possible, employers may not automatically terminate such employees.  Employers are required to engage in a good faith interactive process and work towards finding a possible solution or reasonable accommodation for the employee.

Indeed, employees are protected from unlawful termination under federal, state and city laws.  It is unlawful to terminate an employee based on their disabilities, religious beliefs, race, gender, or nationality.  It is also illegal to terminate an employee or take any adverse action against them as a result of them raising complaints about discrimination or unlawful wage practices.  Workers who believe they were wrongfully terminated, discriminated against, or otherwise mistreated at work should speak with legal counsel to fully understand their rights.  
 

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About Innessa M. Huot

Innessa M. Huot is a Partner in the firm's New York office and Chair of the firm's Employment Practice Group.

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