Today’s post is by Eric Tiritilli, one of our Employment Law specialists.

Currently, there is no formal guidance from federal agencies regarding whether an employer may require an employee to be vaccinated for COVID-19.  But, the EEOC has previously allowed mandatory vaccinations in the context of flu. Given that the EEOC considers the COVID-19 pandemic a “direct threat” to health in the workplace, it is likely that it would similarly allow mandatory vaccinations for COVID-19.

Of course, the employer must also be able to show that requiring a vaccination is “job related and consistent with business necessities.” For example, employers that can show that workers interact with others or the public, could easily demonstrate that the vaccine is job related and consistent with business necessities.  This would be more difficult showing if your employees worked remotely and never interacted with anyone else.

Employers should also be aware of exceptions to requiring vaccinations under the Americans With Disabilities Act and for employees who have an objection to receiving the vaccine based on sincerely held religious beliefs.  Employers with union employees should also review their collective bargaining agreements for potential issues.

Finally, although employers may be able to require COVID-19 vaccinations, the next question is whether this is the right decision for your company.  The vaccine – both the benefits and the risks – are sure to stir heated debate and concerns among both employees and employers.   When emotions run high, it will be critical to communicate with employees and consider the options.  One option is to simply encourage, rather than require, employees to receive the vaccine – this is the method that the EEOC suggests regarding flu vaccines.

The COVID-19 vaccine is, hopefully, a light at the end of the 2020 tunnel.  Employers are well advised to carefully navigate these final steps as the workplace return to normal.  If you need help with your vaccination plans, we recommend you contact experienced employment counsel.