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What Employers Should Know About the COVID Vaccine

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Feb. 4, 2021—The coronavirus pandemic has been top-of-mind for individuals across the globe for the last year, but with the vaccine rollout, many businesses are wondering if they can require their employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Affinity HR Group, a human resources consulting firm that specializes in small and medium-sized enterprises, addressed business owners’ vaccine concerns during one of its recent Monday HR Minute presentations. 

Claudia St. John, president of Affinity HR Group Inc., broke down a recent ruling from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, along with rights held by employers and other concerns.

She began the presentation saying, “Our hopes of putting the coronavirus behind us have all been accomplished, except for the fact that we haven’t done that all.” 

Here’s what business owners need to know about the vaccine rollout. 

 

The Ruling

In December, the EEOC released a plethora of information for employers regarding health screenings and employee vaccination. 

According to St. John, the commission decided that “Employers are within their rights, because of the pandemic, to protect their workforce by requiring [employees] get a vaccine.” 

But, as most employers know, it’s never that simple.

 

The Caveats

St. John warned employers to be aware of the constraints that come with the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which protect individuals from a variety of discriminations. 

In order for someone to receive a COVID-19 vaccination, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requires certain questions to be asked. 

The EEOC warns, “If the employer requires an employee to receive the vaccination, [administered by the employer or a third-party contractor], the employer must show that these disability-related screening inquiries are ‘job-related and consistent with business necessity.’”

To put it simply, St. John told viewers, “Make sure you're not violating ADA rights based on the questions you're asking.”

Furthermore, St. John said, employers that are requiring the vaccine must make accommodations for those with ADA-approved conditions that would prohibit them from taking the vaccine. 

When it comes to Title VII, St. John reminded employers that if taking a vaccine is against an employee’s religion, it cannot be enforced. 

“It’s very clear from the EEOC,” she said, “Requiring a vaccine as a condition of employment is within employers’ legal rights, provided there are reasonable accommodations for those who cannot take the vaccine.” 

 

The Future

St. John said as more vaccine doses are rolled out and conversations continue to take place, employers can expect guidelines and best practices to shift. 

Per the EEOC, “Employers should remember that guidance from public health authorities is likely to change as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves. Therefore, employers should continue to follow the most current information on maintaining workplace safety.”

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