Can Employers Mandate a COVID-19 Vaccination?

Since last March, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced employers to quickly reassess established policies and develop new policies.  While vaccines are just beginning to be deployed, widespread availability of a COVID-19 vaccine is expected later this year.  In anticipation, employers should begin to carefully consider whether they will require employees to get vaccinated.

The EEOC has recently issued guidelines relating to Covid-19 vaccines.  These guidelines seem to imply that employers can choose to require vaccination mandates; however, there are factors that employers should consider before doing so.   For example, the EEOC has made clear that absent undue hardship, employers may be required to reasonably accommodate employees who are unable to be vaccinated because of their disability or for religious reasons.  Therefore, before mandating vaccination, employers should carefully balance their commitment to maintaining a safe workplace with their employees’ rights and protections under the law, particularly the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or similar state laws.   Employers should seek legal counsel in reviewing their obligations under these laws.  Determining whether a reasonable accommodation can be provided and deciphering the sincerity of an employee’s religious beliefs can be a delicate and difficult task for employers.[1] 

There are many other factors that may play a role in an employer’s decision to mandate COVID-19 vaccines, such as industry requirements or recommendations, considerations under applicable state laws, ease of availability, general objections to vaccination by employees, liability for potential adverse reactions, etc.  Helpful resources which employers should consider include the CDC’s vaccine recommendations and the EEOC website which are updated periodically with guidance on dealing with COVID-19. 

Should you have any questions about implementing a mandatory vaccination policy, please contact a member ofSaiber’s Labor & Employment Law practice.

[1]  See E.E.O.C. v. Unión Independiente de la Autoridad de Acueductos y Alcantarillados de Puerto Rico, 279 F.3d 49, 56-57 (1st Cir. 2002) (holding “assessing the bona fides of an employee’s religious belief is a delicate business” and a “quintessential” question of fact).